Afghanistan delaying recruitment of Taliban defectors

Many factors are being blamed for slow recruitment of Taliban defectors.

Washington: The Afghan government is reported to be moving too slowly to recruit Taliban defectors, and a number of factors are being blamed for it.

US and Afghan officials say that not speeding up the recruitment process could end up being a lost opportunity to capitalise on hard-won military gains and the death of Osama bin Laden.

According to the Washington Post, the Afghan government’s inability to provide safe houses, job-training classes and other services aimed at reintegrating former combatants has prevented local authorities from offering amnesty to many fighters.

In Kandahar province, a hub of Taliban activity that has been a focus of US military operations, the governor is taking the extraordinary step of urging insurgent leaders to delay their surrender.

The Kabul government does not dispute that it has been tardy.

“Program execution has been slow as compared to the urgency of the needs of the provinces and communities,” the national peace and reintegration secretariat wrote this month in a review of its efforts.

Senior US military officials and diplomats are concerned that the lack of reintegration programs will undermine efforts to achieve the Obama administration’s goal of an eventual political reconciliation with top rebel leaders that would end the nearly 10-year-long war.

British Major General Phillip Jones, the NATO military command’s director for reintegration, said there has been a “significant uptick” in interest among insurgents in laying down their weapons.

“A lot of these low-level groups are having a good, hard look at the fighting season ahead and are starting to vote with their feet,” he said.

About 1,700 Afghans have enrolled in the program, but most are in the country’s less-violent north and west, not in the strategically vital south and east.

Afghanistan still does not have much of the basic infrastructure needed to implement such a program.

The central government only recently created a mechanism to transfer money from Kabul to the province-level peace councils that are responsible for running the program on a day-to-day basis.

Political bickering also has hindered the process. Ethnic Pashtun leaders such as Karzai are generally supportive of the effort because they regard most low-level Taliban members as wayward cousins who can be lured back into the government fold.

On the other hand, ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who live in the country’s north and battled the Taliban in the 1990s contend that the program amounts to a handout of money and jobs to people who have been engaged in violence instead of helping law-abiding Afghans who are struggling.

To Afghan and international human rights advocates, the program’s biggest problem is not the government’s slow pace but its failure to screen participants thoroughly.