Lately, there has been a flurry of news reports about Taliban fighters and other insurgents laying down their weapons and joining the ‘peace process.’ The ‘reintegration’ reported in the media is happening primarily in Afghanistan’s northern provinces — Faryab, Jawzjan, Takhar, Balkh, Kunduz, Baghlan and others — but there have also been cases in the South.
Defections in the south of the country might be because of the massive surge that appears to have created some space for peace. Coalition forces are hinging their efforts on the surge, hoping it will turn the tide.
However, defections in the North are more significant because they represent an apparent reversal in the rapid growth of militancy in the once-peaceful region.
Compared to the overall size of the insurgency, defection numbers are trivial — a few here, a dozen there — and the trend might just be anecdotal, but the element key in this phenomenon is the timing, to which there are two dimensions.
- It comes in the wake of last year’s peace jirga, the creation of the High Peace Council, Afghanistan’s reaching out to Pakistan and other efforts part of a Western-backed attempt to revive Karzai’s floundering peace offer to the Taliban, originally extended in the early years of his time in power. The defections might be a sign that the plan is finally working.
- It is wintertime in Afghanistan, and traditionally militants take a break to sleep away the months of heavy snow, iced roads and subzero temperatures that can seriously hamper their mobility and operational capability. The hibernation might just have been sweetened by the benefits of the reintegration program, which promises former militants amnesty, skills training, cash-for-work schemes and protection against reprisals from other militants for defection.
So, is the reintegration working? Or are the defections motivated by the perks only?
The answer could be anyone’s guess, although right now the consensus seems to be on the side of reintegration skeptics. One would hope, somewhat wishfully, that the winter break, the perks of surrender and the surge will work in synergy to lead the war to a critical turning point.