Taliban leaders to be offered exile under Afghanistan peace plan
Top Taliban leaders could be offered exile outside Afghanistan if they agree to stop fighting the government of Hamid Karzai, a long-expected peace plan by the Afghan government will propose later this month.
The far-reaching proposals, seen by the Guardian, also call for “deradicalisation” classes for insurgents and thousands of new manual jobs created for foot soldiers who renounce violence.
The long-delayed Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme has emerged just as Karzai prepares to go to Washington for talks with Barack Obama, where the issue is likely to be top of the agenda.
The plan will then be presented later in the month to a gathering of representatives from across Afghanistan called the National Consultative Peace Jirga. Once agreed upon, the government will be able to start spending around $160m (£100m) pledged by the international community to lure fighters away from the conflict. The document refers to such fighters as “angry brothers”, reflecting the belief that a substantial portion of insurgents are not motivated by strong ideological beliefs.
Little is said in the report about the Taliban leaders managing the war against Karzai’s government. However, it does say insurgent leaders could face “potential exile in a third country”.
Saudi Arabia has been used in the past for such purposes, and there has been widespread speculation that exile could be offered to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami armed group, which in March sent a peace delegation to Kabul for talks with Karzai.
Western powers are likely to be pleased by the level of detail about the new High Level Peace Council, which will take over from a notoriously chaotic predecessor body accused of reintegrating fighters who subsequently took up arms again.
However, diplomats are worried that the government lacks the capacity to implement a programme that calls for complex activities in around 4,000 villages most affected by the insurgency. One diplomat said: “For the international community money is not a problem, they will pay whatever it takes. One gets a sense that there are people on the military side who will do most of the work and then give it some sort of an Afghan face.”
The High Council and its executive body will be in charge of processing fighters who want to live peacefully. They will initially be put in “demobilisation centres” for a “cooling off” period of 90 days where their needs can be assessed and their personal security assured.
If they agree to lay down their arms and cut ties with al-Qaida they will be entitled to an amnesty against prosecution for any crimes they may have committed. They will also be issued with a biometric “reintegration card”. They will then be offered a “menu” of options designed to keep them peacefully occupied, including vocational training in such trades as carpet-weaving and tailoring.
There will also be the option to go through “deradicalisation” training, of the sort pioneered by Saudi Arabia. However, the report acknowledges the complexity of such programmes, the lack of “adequate experience” in Afghanistan and the likely need to send “highly radicalised” people to other countries for treatment.
Major new institutions will also be set up to manage enormous job-creation schemes. An Engineering and Construction Corps will focus on labour-intensive work, such as the construction of Afghanistan’s national highway system and other large-scale infrastructure projects. It also envisages teams of ex-Taliban fighters being rapidly deployed to respond to emergencies such as floods and landslides. By far the most controversial option is the option for former insurgents to join the Afghan army or police force.
Western embassies and Nato have for months been impatient for the government to produce a reintegration strategy, which is an important part of the counterinsurgency plan being pursued by Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, it has been widely reported that Karzai is frustrated at US opposition to high-level peace talks with insurgent leaders.
However, both US and Afghan officials say there is only disagreement on the timing of the talks and, to the frustration of the UK, which wants to see a high-level political accommodation with the Taliban, both sides are determined that there should be no significant compromise.
Last week Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president’s hugely influential half-brother, told the Guardian that while fighters could surrender and return in peace, the Afghan government would never share power with the Taliban or give in to demands for the country’s constitution to be changed in return for peace. Speaking at his home in Kandahar, he said: “Give them Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand? Change the constitution? No way, they are a defeated force, they are running, they are hiding, they are defeated.”
His remarks echo those of a senior presidential aide who said Karzai has no interest in a grand deal with the Taliban movement as a whole, but is interested in talking to individuals in order to “chip away at and weaken the insurgency”.
It is thought that the offer to return home to Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan and live without the fear of being killed by Nato forces would be enough to encourage people to give up. However, Harvard analyst Matt Waldman said the Taliban would only be happy with significant change to the current political set-up in Afghanistan.
“From my discussions with Taliban commanders it is clear they are driven to fight by predatory politics, the abuse of power and perception of military aggression. Until these causes are addressed the fighting will go on.”
• Taliban foot soldiers will be encouraged by provincial and district governors to reintegrate into society. An initial 90-day cooling-off period will decide how they can be helped.
• They will vow not to fight against the government, and disavow al-Qaida. The authorities will hold their biometric profile, including fingerprints and iris scans.
• To help former fighters support themselves, the government will offer vocational training in trades such as tailoring and electrical repairs.
• Thousands of manual jobs in construction and agriculture will be created for reintegrated rebels. Others may join their local police force or the army.
• The programme will be initially rolled out in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Herat, Baghdis, Nangarhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan. It will affect 220 districts and around 4,000 villages.
• Insurgent leaders who reconcile themselves with the government may be removed from the UN’s terrorist blacklist and possibly be offered “exile in a third country”.