A new report by Matt Waldman of the Afghan Analysts Network offers a gloomy assessment of plans to reintegrate Taliban fighters back into society.
Golden Surrender explores the possibilities of implementing plans outlined at the London Conference in February to pay Taliban fighters to give up their struggle, an idea based on the idea that most fighters do so because they have little economic choice.
As Waldman notes, the risks are high: "A well-executed reintegration scheme could have positive social, economic, and stabilisation benefits – and thus reduce the force of the insurgency – but if mishandled, it could do the reverse. Without intelligent design, effective delivery, and political resolve it has the potential to exacerbate local security conditions, undermine high‐level talks, and even increase insurgent recruitment. It could also distract policy‐makers from action to tackle the root causes of the conflict. Reintegration addresses the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself."
He notes the very limited success of previous programmes such as the Strengthening Peace Programme, the 2003-6 Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process implemented through the Afghan New Beginnings Program and the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) program, none of which have had much impact on reducing Taliban recruitment - now standing at around 36,000 active fighters.
The views contained in Waldman's paper have been well researched. It is based on "more than 50 in-depth interviews, mainly in or near Kabul and Kandahar, with officials, diplomats, politicians, analysts, civil society representatives, community, tribal, and religious leaders, 10 former senior Taliban officials (six former ministers and two ambassadors), seven insurgent field commanders (operating in Kandahar, Wardak, Ghazni, and Khost provinces), and one senior Taliban intermediary."
Many of the Taliban commanders interviewed, while open to the idea of peace negotiations, say that their fighters are not simply fighting for money and will not be tempted to give up for money.
As Waldman say, the reasons they fight are myriad: "In the briefest terms, some of these are tribal, community, and group exclusion or disempowerment; leverage in local rivalries, feuds, and conflicts; government predation, impunity, or corruption; criminality, disorder, and the perversion of justice; civilian casualties and abusive raids or detentions; resistance to perceived western occupation or suppression of Islam; the hedging of bets; and as a reaction to threats, intimidation, or coercion."
He quotes one Taliban commander in Kandahar: "if we were fighting for money we would try to find work. At the moment our country is invaded, there is no true sharia, there is crime and corruption. Can we accept these for money? How then could I call myself a Muslim and an Afghan?"
The report is not entirely negative and indeed, Waldman points out that the details of the latest reintegration programme have not yet been announced. But he is right to be cautious: "Perhaps the greatest risk is that the programme distracts policy‐makers from addressing the root causes of the conflict, especially predatory, exclusionary politics, and the abuse of power. This would be treating the symptoms while ignoring the cancer."