But nearly a year after the current reintegration effort began, few if any insurgents have laid aside their weapons. Meanwhile, the Afghan National Security Forces that should be helping reintegrate former combatants are instead entirely focused on honing their fighting skills.
In light of that fact, Khalili’s New Year speech seems less like a vision of imminent peace than a desperate rejection of reality. It may be too soon to declare reintegration an ultimate and permanent failure, but it’s late enough in the day to admit it isn’t working the way it was supposed to.
With ISAF troops scheduled to begin their gradual withdrawal this summer, Khalili’s ‘new chapter’ is more likely to feature sustained, intensive combat between Afghan troops and Afghan and foreign insurgents than it is to see large numbers of combatants voluntarily giving up.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
A decade after invading US troops hunting al-Qaeda opened a new phase in the decades-old Afghan civil war, the violence is slowly taking on a more purely Afghan character as the foreign armies depart and insurgents reject appeals to reintegrate. The war isn’t ending. It’s evolving.
A January 2010 dispatch from US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry published this year by WikiLeaks was sceptical of the reintegration programme.
After lavishing praised on Stanekzai as ‘a talented individual and open interlocutor,’ Eikenberry cautioned that ‘much work (is) needed to (be) carried out, including development of a communications strategy, engagement with clerical leaders and a plan for engagement with the government of Pakistan.’
Eikenberry also warned that the money associated with reintegration risked ‘creating perverse incentives, short-changing individuals and communities that have not fed the insurgency.’ He also highlighted the ‘potential for a lack of coordination with other governance and development initiatives targeting the same areas.’
The latter risk helps explain why, by March 2011, the reintegration process has apparently achieved virtually nothing. There have been no reports of insurgents laying down their arms in meaningful numbers. In Logar, a key agricultural province just south of Kabul and a major base for insurgent attacks on the capital, one US Army officer specializing in ‘information operations’—that is, propaganda and other persuasion techniques—was aware of just a single reintegrated insurgent.
US Army Lt. Col. William Chlebowski, commanding forces in part of Logar, also knew of just one attempt at reintegration—and an unsuccessful one, at that. ‘We had a bad dude,’ Chlebowski recalls. ‘The shura (local council) said he swore he wouldn’t do bad things.’
The shura’s claim seemed dubious, Chlebowski says. All the same, he and his men ‘just wanted to see if it would work.’ The Americans were prepared to receive the former insurgent according to the guidelines outlined in the ISAF handout. Proscribed steps include: interviewing the former combatant, registering him in a nationwide database, and helping connect him with the Afghan officials who will oversee his transition back to peaceful life.
But all that preparation was for nothing. ‘The shura never brought him in,’ Chlebowski admits.
The information-operations officer suggested one explanation for the lack of reintegration—and it’s identical to one of the concerns Eikenberry raised in his dispatch. While Stanekzai is apparently serious about the reintegration programme, his personal commitment hasn’t translated into the broad range of complex processes necessary to make reintegration actually work.