By Jessica L. Tozer
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 13, 2011 – For insurgents in Afghanistan who choose to lay down arms and align themselves with the government, the road to reintegration starts with the force reintegration cell for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
“The Afghan peace and reintegration program is an Afghan civil peace process that's been in action for about 10 months now,” Maj. Gen. Phil Jones of the British army, the reintegration cell’s director, explained during a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday. “The strategy provides programmatic support for these armed groups and, of course their communities, who wish to reintegrate -- in other words, [who] wish to rejoin Afghanistan.”
Enemy fighters who wish to reintegrate with Afghan society must renounce terrorism and pledge loyalty to the Afghan government, but it’s more than just a wave of the hand and a pledge to be good, Jones said. The program is about restructuring their lives for the better, he explains, which means teaching former insurgents how to redefine themselves not as agents of evil, but as forces for good.
“At its highest level, it's run by the High Peace Council that works on national and international politics, Jones said. “At its lowest end, in the districts and provinces, the peace process supports fighters and their communities rejoining the nation of Afghanistan with honor and with dignity, providing they renounce violence, sever ties with international terrorist groups, and live under the constitution,” he added.
The process is extensive, and includes a detailed accounting of the former insurgents’ personal information.
“All of them have been biometrically registered [with] photographs, thumbprints, iris scans, that sort of thing,” Jones said. “They all get interviewed in detail to really try to get … all the detail you need for these distant areas, plus a whole load of other information that's fed onto an Afghan database.”
The program is quickly gaining speed, and so far, the numbers have been rocketing up, the general said.
“About a week ago, we had about 1,300, [in the program] and now we're up to about 1,700 former fighters formally reintegrating, formally joining the process, with hundreds more across Afghanistan just going home,” he said. “Those folks just decided to leave the fight quietly, because they know they can under this emerging peace process.”
Afghanistan’s goal is not only to help the Afghan people establish a solid leadership infrastructure and foundation, the general said, but also to build a greater and more unified country. That, he added, can start with people declaring allegiance in the pursuit of peace.
Jones recalled a meeting last week in northwestern Afghanistan’s impoverished Badghis province. “We sat in Badghis with about 40 ex-insurgent commanders in a room together, discussing the challenges of peace, whereas six months ago we'd have been fighting,” he said. “It was one of those amazing, powerful moments.”
Jones acknowledged that a lot of work lies ahead.
“It's an extraordinary period to be out here, because there's a lot that's changing. … The insurgents, the Taliban leadership, they are not going to go out of this without a fight, but the conversation is changing,” he said. “There's a sense that the security gains are sufficiently solid for people to have confidence in a different future. The security gains have given the people in the villages the confidence to speak out against violence.”
The goal is to continue to turn small victories into long-term solutions, Jones said, and the reintegration program is shedding new light on the prospect of peace, as long as the momentum continues to build.
“It’s given people sufficient hope to start to believe in things like the peace and reintegration program, even though it's in the early stages,” he said.