I don’t think this will go well. I want to be wrong about that.

After the UNDP spent years painstakingly disarming local militias, an effort overwhelmingly supported by ordinary Afghan civilians, the US is going ahead with a plan to arm Pashtun tribal militias against the Taliban in an attempt to recreate the Awakening Movement that turned Iraq’s Sunnis against Al Qaeda.

But Afghanistan is not Iraq, the conditions are entirely different, and I worry that this will have very bad unintended consequences.

I hope I’m wrong, honestly, I do. 

Some background, and please excuse my sloppy footnotes:

The UNDP began Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) in 2003 under the Afghan New Beginnings Program (ANBP). DDR achieved some notable successes under the ANBP between 2003 and 2006.[1]

 

By 2006, the ANBP had successfully decommissioned 62,326 former combatants, reduced a number of the officially recognized militias, and succeeded in collecting most of their heavy weaponry. In addition, 11,000 children participated in a reintegration program that provided basic education and vocational training. Women also became eligible for assistance as 24,536 female relatives of former combatants received education and income opportunities through ANBP programming.

 

Contrary to the perception among some outside commentators  that Afghans would never let go of their guns or allow their local ‘defenders’ to be disarmed, public support for DDR was consistently high across regions, urban and rural areas, and all ethnic groups. According to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium in advance of the 2005 parliamentary elections, a stunning eighty-eight percent of respondents wanted their government to do more to reduce the power of militia commanders[2], and many respondents believed that local militia commanders relied on the support of individuals within the central government to remain in power, not the other way around.[3]

 

Eighty-two percent approved of international supervision of disarmament. [4] And a quarter of respondents said that where commanders stood for election, other would not feel free to stand against them. [5]

[1] International Center for Transitional Justice, “Disarmament and Transitional Justice in Afghanistan,” 2008, http://www.ictj.org/en/research/projects/ddr/country-cases/2376.html

[2] The Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium, “Take The Guns Away,” September 2004, Annex 9, http://www.afghanadvocacy.org.af/documents/TaketheGunsAwayEnglish.pdf

[3] Ibid, p. 6

[4] Ibid, Annex 11

[5] Ibid, Annex 21


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