KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The appeal of amnesty has dwindled dramatically for Taliban thinking of giving up arms, hinting at an insurgency that is increasing its resolve and complicating President Hamid Karzai’s promise to reach out to insurgents.
Reconciliation programs in Afghanistan, and Kandahar in particular, have become less effective over the past three years as both the international community and the Afghan government prove unable to co-opt insurgents.
Only 89 Taliban members have signed up so far this year for Kandahar’s branch of the National Reconciliation Program, compared to more than 300 in 2006.
The program’s administrators in Kabul confirmed last year’s national figures were below those of 2006, but declined to provide exact numbers to The Canadian Press.
“The Taliban are getting stronger than they were before,” said Haji Agha Lalai, a prominent Panjwaii district elder and former director of Kandahar’s reconciliation program.
“Also the government does not support us very well and we could not fulfil our promises to Taliban.”
Promises of jobs and land have largely gone unfulfilled for want of funding, prompting some of those Taliban who have come in from the cold to think about going out again.
“If I knew that their promises were just useless, I would never come to this program,” said Mulla Muhammad Zahir, a former Talib who joined in 2006.
“Now to support my family I might go back to the Taliban, because it is a long time and I have not received anything.”
Karzai vowed to make the reintegration of insurgents a centrepiece of his new government during his inauguration speech last week.
Canadian officials are now working with Karzai’s national security team to revamp the existing program.
“To be frank, the efforts so far haven’t been able to get at the nub of the problem,” said the Canada’s ambassador in Kabul, Bill Crosbie.
Among the issues Crosbie wants addressed are the security of those who join disarmament and reconciliation programs.
Despite joining Kandahar’s program more than three years ago, Zahir continues to be targeted by his former Taliban colleagues.
“Still I am under the threats,” he said. “Taliban tried killing me for three times.”
But perhaps the greatest factor working against reconciliation is the sense among insurgents that momentum is in their favour.
“The timing is not ripe for a top-down reconciliation program,” Crosbie said. “The timing needs to reflect the dynamics of the military operations… we have to demonstrate the momentum has shifted.”
Questions about Karzai’s legitimacy following the country’s scandal-plagued election compound the difficulty of getting insurgents to participate.