None of the US-backed reintegration programmes enabled any significant number of ex-combatants to socially and economically rejoin the Afghan society, says an official US report sent to Congress this week.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which compiled the report, also pointed out that programmes targeting Taliban insurgents did not substantially weaken the insurgency or contribute meaningfully to parallel reconciliation efforts.
“If there is ever to be a true, sustainable peace in Afghanistan, reintegration of the Taliban and other combatants will be a necessary component of that process, whether that process begins days or years from now,” warned Inspector General John Sopko.
The SIGAR report, which was released to the public on Friday, also reviews efforts to revive the Afghan peace process, which seeks to end the 18-year-old war.
In September, the Taliban and the Trump administration appeared on the verge of a breakthrough deal. But Mr Trump abruptly declared the peace talks “dead” after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed an American soldier. He made the announcement hours before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior Taliban leaders was set to arrive at a US presidential resort to sign the deal.
The SIGAR report notes that since October 2018, US and Taliban representatives have been meeting in Doha, Qatar, to find a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict. The Kabul government, however, did not participate in talks as the Taliban does not recognise it.
The reports notes that the topics discussed in Doha included conditions for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and for preventing terrorists from again using Afghanistan as a platform for planning and launching attacks.
Despite the suspension, both sides appear keen to start the talk process while the United Nations is calling for direct talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government “as soon as possible,” the report adds.
But the SIGAR report warns that “even if intra-Afghan talks produce an agreement, and even if reintegration programs are undertaken, other complications can arise.” Such as, some Taliban fighters may decide they want no part of a peace agreement.
The report also warns that even if a peace agreement covering all insurgents in Afghanistan were reached, “failure to reintegrate former fighters may simply produce an interval between bouts of violence.”
That’s why SIGAR believes that the “reintegration of ex-combatants is going to remain highly relevant if and when we get a peace process.”
Underlining the enormity of the reintegration program, SIGAR points out that an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban fighters, as well as numerous other non-Taliban combatants will have to be reintegrated if, and when, the Afghan government and the Taliban reach a political settlement.
“Any major reintegration effort is very likely to fail in the absence of an agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban on terms for the reintegration of former fighters,” Mr Sopko warned,
Otherwise, former fighters and their families “face enormous risks of retribution” with likely little protection from the government, he added.