HERAT - Militants in Herat province of eastern Afghanistan who laid down their
weapons in response to government offers of aid and amnesty are rejoining the
insurgency after officials failed to deliver on their promises.
A senior security official told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
(IWPR) that about half the 1,000 militants who had surrendered in the past year
were now back fighting against the government.
Both the Afghan government and the international community have made it a
priority to persuade members of the Taliban and
allied armed groups to defect, and this was the focus of a peace jirga or
assembly hosted by President Hamid Karzai in the capital Kabul in June.
Efforts have focused on winning over small groups in return for protection from
legal investigations, the provision of jobs and reconstruction projects for
their home areas.
However, in a telephone interview with IWPR, Nur Gul, a Taliban commander who
surrendered with his 20 armed men last October, said none of the promises he
received beforehand had been translated into action.
Nur Gul, 38, was originally part of the Jamiat-e Islami faction, which fought
against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan in the 1990s. But then he switched
allegiances and joined his former Taliban enemies, before being persuaded to
come over to the government side.
"The day we surrendered, the Italian PRT [provincial reconstruction team] gave
each of us one sack of rice, a can of cooking oil and a winter jacket," he
said. "They showed this on TV, which we found very humiliating, as most people
might think we'd been fighting only for some rice or cooking oil."
Nur Gul said his men were being harassed by Afghan security officers, had not
been given jobs and had seen no reconstruction work.
"We thought we had an independent government, but [now] we realize it's the
foreigners who have the bigger say in this country, not the Afghan government,"
Now he is back with the Taliban. "This time I will fight against the government
and the foreign occupying forces to the last drop of blood," he said.
Arbab Zaman Gul, 40, from the Keshk Kuhna district, was a commander in Hezb-e
Islami, an insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and allied with the
Taliban. He surrendered to Herat provincial police together with his 30
fighters this May.
But he too has returned to violence, accusing the government of reneging on its
promises. "After we surrendered and received a letter of protection from the
government, four of my men were killed within the next 10 days," he said. He
accuses "government elements" of the killings.
"The reason we surrendered was not to be harassed or tortured by government
security forces, but to help restore peace and security," Zaman Gul said. “We
wanted our area to be rebuilt and we wanted job opportunities to be created so
that we would have a chance to get work. But the government has reneged on all
"So we have had to go out, pick up our weapons and fight them again. If the
government continues with its lies, not only will no one want to surrender, but
the number of people opposing it will increase."
Mullah Mustafa, a former Taliban commander who surrendered and joined the peace
process along with his 50 fighters, told IWPR that he had not yet returned to
the armed struggle. But he warned that if the government failed to deliver on
promises, his men would take up arms again.
Officials acknowledge that there have been problems with the reconciliation
process, pointing to a lack of resources and the conflicting priorities of
different government agencies.
The effort to persuade militants to turn away from violence has been led by the
National Independent Peace and Reconciliation Commission, NPRC, founded in
2005. Sharif Mojaddidi, who heads the NPRC's division for western Afghanistan,
says between 5,000 to 7,000 insurgents across the country have joined the peace
process in the past five years.
He said the government provided militants who surrendered with letters of
protection, and promised it would create jobs and launch reconstruction efforts
in the areas from which they came.
Mojaddidi acknowledged that some insurgents had gone back to the other side due
to budgetary constraints which prevented some pledges being honored, and also
to what he described as "inattentiveness" on the part of some senior government
Herat provincial police chief Mohammad Salim Ehsas said the militants who
joined the peace process had unrealistic expectations - they wanted
reconstruction, job-creation and the departure of foreign troops from
Afghanistan, all in the very near future.
Siawash, a political analyst in Herat province, said he believed that most of
those who joined the peace process were simply armed criminals, rather than
part of the opposition. Once they realized they were no longer able to make a
living out of crime, he said, they came to the government and claimed to be
militants willing to surrender. Then they would turn back to crime again.
According to Siawash, the real opposition has an ideological agenda that makes
it harder to persuade members to surrender just to get money or jobs.
A high-ranking official for the western security zone, speaking on condition of
anonymity, estimated that out of the more than 1,000 armed men who had handed
in their weapons over the past year, "500 are back fighting the government and
the international forces".
He said those who had resumed militant activity mainly came from the Bala
Murghab and Qades districts of Badghis province, and the Keshk Kuhna, Guzra,
Adreskan and Shindand districts of Herat province.
The official was among those who have accused officers of the National
Directorate of Security, NDS, of harassing former militants and alienating them
from the reconciliation process.
Even though men who surrendered were generally issued with a letter of
protection, the NDS frequently interrogated them.
General Ekramuddin Yawar, chief of police for the western security zone, agreed
that intelligence services had put pressure on former militants in an attempt
to extract information from them. On some occasions, he said, this had driven
the gunmen to defect again.
"Some of those who had joined the peace process have gone back ... and resumed
their activities against Afghan and international security forces," he said.
A NDS official in Herat province, who declined to be named, said the agency had
to interrogate those who surrendered to identify their associates. He insisted
those interrogated were not tortured or imprisoned.
Sharif Ahmad, a former militant, said in a telephone interview that the NDS
questioning had prompted him to go back to the insurgents. "Although I
surrendered all the arms I had to the government, I was still put under
pressure by NDS officers, who wanted me to hand in more weapons," he said.
He said that when he found out that the NDS was going to detain him again, he
rejoined the insurgents.
Zia Ahmadi is an IWPR trainee journalist in Herat.