By Alexa Van Sickle, Assistant Editor
As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a key part of the transition to Afghan security leadership will be persuading members of the Taliban insurgency to reconcile with the government in Kabul. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) designed to do this has so far encouraged 5,000 insurgents to give up their weapons, according to Major General David Hook of the Royal Marines.
Hook told the IISS this week that only 20% of Taliban interviewed as they entered the programme claimed to be fighting for ideological reasons. Often, they were motivated instead by local grievances.
‘Part of the design of the APRP was to address these local grievances,’ said Hook. ’If you address [the grievance] locally, you can pull them in.’ This was particularly important because analysis also showed that more than 75% of ordinary fighters remained within 20 miles of their village. About 78% of all those joining the APRP process said they did so because they were tired of fighting.
The APRP, an Afghan-led social reintegration process backed by international funding, is one of three related reconciliation-and-reintegration ‘tracks’ in Afghanistan, alongside political negotiations towards a ‘grand bargain’ between the government and Taliban leaders, and so-called ‘high-level reintegration’ seeking to persuade insurgent leaders to stop fighting the government and support it instead.
‘It is very important to remember’, said Hook, ‘that the APRP is owned, designed, led and executed by the Afghans and for the Afghans. ISAF and the international community support it, but do not lead it.’ Community, district and provincial Afghan leaders reach out to insurgents and encourage them to rejoin their communities.
Former insurgents are brought back into Afghan society through a ‘reintegration shura’ (see above), a ceremony in which they symbolically hand over their weapons. A key part of the process is a formal amnesty by the Afghan government for past transgressions. The fighters are also forgiven and accepted by their local communities, which in turn become eligible to receive grants and development projects.
During this process, former insurgents are paid US$120 per month for three months while they retrain, so that they can support their families. But, Hook claimed: ‘This is not a programme that financially rewards people for stopping fighting… It is about the social contract between the fighter and the community.’ It is not a surrender, which he said was particularly important when dealing with the Taliban, but rather ‘allows fighters to come home with honour and dignity intact’.
Hook noted that the challenge for the immediate future was for insurgents all over Afghanistan to feel secure enough to join the programme. So far, it had been very effective in the country’s north and west, including in Baghdis and Herat provinces, but the numbers of insurgents joining were markedly lower in the country’s southern provinces, such as Helmand and Kandahar, where the security situation was worse.
Elsewhere, there had been a ‘tremendous amount’ of activity in political reconciliation over the past 12 months, said Hook, including the involvement of the Saudi and Turkish governments. The Afghan High Peace Council (50% of whom are former insurgents) has also visited Pakistan to discuss that country’s role in the reconciliation process. The Heart of Asia Process, which seeks to bring together regional bodies to build a better future in Afghanistan, has gained momentum in the past 18 months.
Hook said the reconciliation process was not yet taking great strides forward. However, ‘the fact is the people who need to talk are now either talking to each other, or are on the cusp of being involved in the discussions.’
Listen to Major General Hook on: The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme