Off and on for a decade, the Afghan government and its allies in the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (IASF) have tried to convince Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and rejoin mainstream society.
But so-called "reintegration" has proved difficult, to say the least. Across Afghanistan, government authorities have reported only a handful of documented, successful reintegrations among the thousands of active Taliban fighters.
Efforts in Paktika Province, in remote eastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan, illustrate the obstacles to large-scale reintegration.
In Paktika, Afghan and ISAF authorities have used a mix of tactics in an attempt to persuade extremist fighters to switch sides. These include: radio broadcasts promising Taliban fighters amnesty and protection; face-to-face meetings between U.S. and Afghan officials and high-level Taliban; and the offer of government jobs to reintegrating fighters.
The year-old Afghan Local Police (ALP) initiative, a sort of community militia trained and equipped by ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), is critical to reintegration efforts. Some Taliban fighters have been offered jobs with the ALP. Moreover, ISAF believes the local police can provide the security necessary to protect former Taliban from reprisal.
Cultural researchers from a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team (HTT) interviewed residents of the town of Sar Howza, in northern Paktika, to gauge their feelings about reintegration.
"Villagers who are willing to talk about reconciliation have mixed opinions on whether it will actually be successful," the researchers reported. "Some thought the Taliban and other insurgents would be willing to reconcile; most thought the Taliban would fight until coalition forces were expelled from the country."
Complicating this assessment is the apparent fragility of the ALP program and its vulnerablity to being co-opted by warlords. "A number of ALP precursor programs failed, as well as [did] a community policing program established under the Soviets that devolved into militia groups fighting on behalf of warlords," HTT reported.
"HTT believes we will not see high-level insurgents reintegrating until the ALP and ANSF have clearly established control of the key districts in Paktika," the researchers warned. If the ALP collapses, security – and reintegration – will be that much more elusive.
Even given reasonable levels of security, some Afghans doubt Kabul's commitment to reintegration. "One ALP stated he doubted reconciliation would even happen," the researchers added. "'It’s been in the news a lot,' [the policeman] said. 'There have been lots of rumors about big meetings in Kabul. But it’s been 10 years…'"