This Peace Brief is part of a project by the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to identify issues and options to help Afghanistan move toward sustainable peace.
The report was completed before the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the High Peace Council. The full report is published on the PRIO site. Peace From the Bottom-Up?
Previous studies on the dangers of reintegration without a reconciliation process are here.
- The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) aims to reintegrate insurgents in return for security, jobs and other incentives, but has seen limited results.
- Rapid implementation of the program has failed to address adequately a variety of political, employment and security concerns.
- As a result, reintegrees of varying backgrounds are joining the Afghan Local Police, potentially perpetuating instability.
- Without a political approach addressing drivers of the insurgency and higher-level reconciliation, reintegration will see limited results. The government and its partners should concentrate on how to make reintegration part of a broader political process.
The Missing Political Approach
On paper, the APRP is a two-track program “aiming to promote peace through a political approach”—involving reintegration and reconciliation. In reality, international actors and the Afghan government have disagreed on the sequence of both. ISAF and donors hoped that the reintegration of low- and mid-level fighters, combined with the pressure of kill-capture campaigns would force insurgent leaders to negotiate. However, this largely military-led strategy is unlikely to fully address the ties of patronage and loyalty within the Taliban movement. Almost all active insurgent commanders interviewed argued they were not interested in reintegration unless their leaders were at the table with the Afghan government and the process addressed the core grievances of the international military presence and government corruption and predation. At the same time, many former fighters reintegrated under the program appear only loosely tied to the insurgency, if at all. All this suggests that reintegration without broader reconciliation will have limited strategic impact.
The main national and international civilian and military actors involved in APRP used a review conference in May to evaluate its progress. Their plan for the APRP now aims to put the necessary infrastructure in place quickly. But many of the people interviewed find it overly focused on economics, while overlooking other factors like the behavior of foreign forces, dissatisfaction with the Afghan government and Pakistan’s influence. The emphasis on economics also ignores the destabilizing impact of development aid, which can fuel corruption and competition for limited resources.
The international community and Afghan government appear reluctant to tackle drivers of the insurgency linked to their own behavior—notably government corruption and foreign troop’s tactics. Also, some interviewees noted that those who are implementing reintegration are far from neutral in that they are parties to the conflict. That has led to groups questioning the legitimacy of the HPC, for example, some of whose members have more experience waging war than making peace. Many insurgents therefore regard reintegration as surrender. As one Taliban commander from Helmand said, “This is not a reintegration process, this is an American process. With whom should we join? With this corrupt and unjust government? I will never join this process and won’t let any of my friends.”
Many U.N. and Afghan officials agree that significant reintegration will not occur unless insurgents see it as part of a broader, politically negotiated settlement process
There is broad support among Afghans and Afghanistan’s partners for a peace process. On paper, the APRP is quite comprehensive, however, to date it has yielded limited results. In rolling out the program quickly, political issues like grievance resolution and amnesty were inadequately tackled, and the lack of a political approach to reintegration embedded in a broader reconciliation process remains a fundamental flaw.
Reintegration began during an American military troop surge and was aimed by ISAF at weakening the Taliban movement before inviting them to the negotiating table. However, as troops withdraw and the Afghan government assumes increasing security responsibilities, there may be an expansion of talks with the Taliban leadership. This “transition” involves challenges, but also opportunities to tie reintegration to a broader political process. Looking ahead to this process, the international community and the Afghan government should:
Link reintegration with reconciliation. • Situate reintegration of low- and mid-level commanders within a broader reconciliation process aimed not only at insurgent leaders, but also disenfranchised groups. Prepare for scenarios under which reintegration supports the implementation of a peace settlement, potentially including a broader based Afghan management mechanism acceptable to settlement parties, or management by a third party implementer.
Focus on quality not speed. • Afghanistan will require a robust reintegration infrastructure able to handle large numbers to secure a sustainable peace. Instead of trying to quickly reintegrate the highest numbers possible, concentrate on establishing effective institutions, particularly political and judicial, and manage expectations through clear communication of program goals and features.
Support local processes. • Expand administrative, financial and moral support for local officials involved in implementing APRP, coupled with monitoring of the use of resources and community vetting of reintegrees.
About This Brief
Deedee Derksen is a journalist, Ph.D. candidate and author of “Tea with the Taliban,” a Dutch book nominated for a non-fiction award. Research was conducted in Kabul and two provinces, Baghlan and Helmand, and included about 65 interviews with Afghan and Western officials, active and reintegrating insurgent commanders and analysts.