Militants will not be paid to quit Afghan Taliban

British major-general tells Kim Sengupta about the reintegration deals on the table

Friday 23 July 2010 00:00 BST

The programme of Taliban reintegration – a crucial step in Afghanistan's peace strategy – will require officials in Hamid Karzai's government to be punished if they are found guilty of corruption or human rights abuses.

The Independent has learned that the process of persuading insurgents to change sides will be markedly different from the blueprint used in Iraq, where fighters were paid by the US to turn their guns on other insurgents.

Instead, the scheme for Afghanistan stipulates that militant groups who cross over will not get any immediate financial rewards or be pulled into the security forces. The fighters will have their personal details biometrically recorded, while their weaponry would be registered but not impounded.

Crucially, both sides in the long and bitter war will be held to account for their actions, a policy adopted after studying the work of South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It opens the way in Afghanistan for those in power facing possible prosecution.

The programme was initiated by the British Lt-General Sir Graeme Lamb. It has been drawn up by an Afghan and international team and presented by President Karzai during his recent visit to the US and signed off by the White House.

Talking to the Taliban was one of the key issues discussed at this week's Kabul conference. The international community will provide $180m (£120m) for the plan, with $100m coming from the US and $50m from Japan. The UK has promised another $7m, with more funds expected to follow after the Government announced that it was diverting $40m of international aid to Afghanistan.

The first meeting of the body overseeing the process – the High Peace Council – will meet on 27 July with President Karzai in the chair. Western powers, who envisage a peace deal with those members of the Taliban prepared to renounce violence, have pressed the Afghan leader to maintain the momentum for talks, following a national peace conference in June and the summit in Kabul.

General David Petraeus, the US commander responsible for the model used to recruit militants in Iraq, is now head of Nato forces and is said to have backed the version of the Afghan plan.

British Major-General Phil Jones – who led an international team that helped a member of the Afghan cabinet form the programme – said: "This is an Afghan-led and owned programme. The thought of buying fighters is absolutely alien to this. That is seen as a cynical and short-term approach which will not work in the Afghan context. The fighters who want to get back into Afghan society will not accrue any immediate material benefit. They will benefit from what peace and prosperity brings and rejoining their community with honour and dignity.

"There is no compulsion on the security forces to recruit these people. However, they will not be denied the chance to join in the future."

Some insurgent bands have already approached the government. In Baghlan 56 fighters belonging to a group run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are now in safe houses and at Heratin a hundred tribal fighters have opened talks. There have also been defections in Helmand.

General Jones acknowledged that bringing to justice people in positions of authority would not be easy: "This will be a tough task to achieve. But the fact is people are affronted by those in power who had contributed to these problems."

An estimated three-quarters of Taliban fighters were doing so because of "local grievances", he said. Under the programme, individual communities will decide whether or not they want men of violence back into the community. This would inevitably mean that there will not be a uniform criteria across the country on reintegration. General Jones said: "These decisions are meant to be as decentralised as possible. A lot of these disputes go back not just a few years, but decades. There are many factors: like feelings of injustice, land and water issues, antipathy to foreign forces.

"There will be one set of grievances unique to one side of a valley compared to another. At the end of the day this will give a chance to develop dialogue; a chance to talk over what divides them and do this without the violence."

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