Some of Afghanistan’s reintegration and reconciliation strategies may be questionable, but at least one effort appears promising. Amongst the less-than-helpful mechanisms are the national efforts to peal away political-leaning Taliban leaders and bring them into the “democratic” fold. It is obvious from any Afghan farmer in his field to U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal at his post that the Taliban comprise seemingly dozens of disparate factions to include reconciliation-ready pragmatist leaders, who have little to no sway over anyone else. Arguably another unsuccessful attempt is the formation Another initiative, the establishment of District Reintegration Advisory Teams (or “DRAT”s), also continues to struggle and some of the teams are made up of overpaid bureaucrats without the means to safely bring Taliban fighters back into the societal fold.
However, there is a silver lining. The national reintegration program offers a funding stream for international forces to tap in order to promote natural and traditional society to be mentally and financially prepared to help former fighters readjust. By and large this program promotes the tribes—both bloodline and geographic communities—that have been, are, and will likely continue to be Afghanistan’s most powerful identity and force for surrendered insurgents outside major city centers. For example the population of Marjah, having been perhaps more victimised than other peoples in southwest Asia by Taliban subjugation from 2005-2009, has already seen traditional block elders discreetly reintegrating fighters under their protection. And this Afghan Reintegration Program funding has the potential to help this process continue and grow. However, whether such indigenous processes can sustain in non-Pashtun areas is unknown.
Of particular interest is the potential for the funding to go towards schools, both a locally named priority grievance in Pashtun lands and a commonly analysed source of stability of NATO civil affairs and infantry units. Here are some details on how, theoretically, this vital funding stream can use schools to help locals reintegrate Taliban:
1) Beneficiaries must have education options to allow a path to skills, accreditation, and economic opportunity lest former fighters rejoin the Taliban for money. Any educational program that is open to all residents to include former Taliban will be a platform for former fighters to assimilate as they gain the trust of other students—and gain a sense of community and brotherhood facing common academic challenges. Furthermore, former fighters will graduate with recognised certificates so as to avoid residents’ perception that the former insurgents received special treatment.
2) Money from reintegration funds may also be a development incentive for communities to seek out potential recruits to a reintegration programme, after all it is the communities that will offer the protection and sense of belonging to those disoriented and perhaps scared few who left the Taliban. Lack of education is an identified local grievance and source of instability. Building a school as part of a larger local education infrastructure—locally owned, locally appropriate, long-term, and sustainable—will have a measurable effect on mitigating this identified source of instability. Schools will offer communities what they have stated they need.
3) Finally, in a very immediate and practical sense, schools may curb the Taliban’s ability to recruit children from their families for free quasi-Deobandi extremist madrassas in nearby Pakistan where they have a chance to become radicalised.
The Afghan government would do well to continue any programmes that continue to promote natural resiliencies, which are already helping to reintegrate former extremists.