Monday, November 30, 2009

Taliban enticed with jobs, cash

THE US-led coalition and the Afghan government are launching an initiative to persuade Taliban insurgents to lay down their weapons, offering jobs and protection to the militants who abandon their fight.

While President Hamid Karzai's government has been trying to woo these insurgents for years, the new program marks the first time that NATO forces are systematically reaching out to Taliban fighters.

The Afghan government has had a reconciliation program in place since 2004, and claims to have turned more than 8000 insurgents. That program, however, is widely derided as corrupt and ineffective. Insurgents were enticed with offers of jobs but rarely received the promised assistance, leading many to rejoin the fight.

Western officials behind the new reconciliation program say most insurgents are fighting for money - the Taliban often pay their members - or because of personal grievances. Luring such men from the battlefield is a central component of the US's new counter-insurgency strategy crafted by US General Stanley McChrystal.

"It is an issue of dialogue. We need to establish respect, even if they are the enemy," said Graeme Lamb, a retired British general who spearheaded a similar effort to turn Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and who oversees the campaign out of NATO headquarters in Kabul.

The Afghan government and coalition military officials have already begun using tribal elders and other influential figures to reach out to the Taliban in southern Helmand province. The elders negotiate on behalf of the government, and insurgents are offered jobs with the local police force. Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal said, if necessary, the authorities would pay cash to those willing to lay down arms.

The Taliban's senior leadership met the new reconciliation efforts with scorn. The Islamist movement is "considering this decision as a sign of weakness and complete despondency of the enemy", Mullah Brader Akhund, the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command, said in a statement.

Gul Wazir, a Taliban commander who fought the Americans for nearly eight years south of Kabul, has been disappointed with the Afghan government's current reconciliation program. When Mr Wazir decided to stop fighting in September, the government promised to protect him from his erstwhile comrades and find him a job.

But no job or protection materialised, and Mr Wazir said he was forced to flee to Kabul. "The government hasn't done a single thing for me," he says. "My life was better when I was fighting."

No comments:

Post a Comment