Lessons from Afghanistan:  Rethinking Reintegration & Disbandment


By Marko Stanic

Reintegration, as defined by The Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (S/2000/101), a report of the Secretary-General is the process which enables former combatants and persons associated with them (women, children, families), to adapt and become productive members of their societies. This process includes economic and social adaptations by providing compensation packages, training, and job opportunities. As was pointed out by the SG, the process of Reintegration, while the last “step” in the DDR process, should not be followed with a silo approach – meaning that the Reintegration should not exclusively follow the process of Demobilization. All three phases of DDR ought to work in tandem with one another.

Keeping this definition of Reintegration in mind, political reintegration the “may be framed as conflict transformation tool. In this regard it aims to underpinning UN experiences at armed group and rebel groups…” (Political Reintegration & Armed Group Transformation). There are two primary objectives of political integration: 1. Inclusion of irregular armed forces to any agreed upon power sharing arrangements, and 2. Transforming the said group into productive, law abiding citizens. It would appear that, while the United Nations did hold these goals in mind, it fell short of achieving them in Afghanistan.

From 2002 through 2012, the UN efforts in Afghanistan included both positive and negative incentives aimed at the individuals within the armed groups. When addressing the armed groups however the UN seeks to either transform the groups transformation or disbandment. The disbandment of fighters in the Afghanistan did not succeed due to the assumption that a permanent break between the command and control, and individual fighters was possible. Conducting a Conflict-Development Analysis (CDA) in Afghanistan would have revealed the existence of very strong tribal ties. These ethnic identities often served as primary modes of identity, often trumping national Afghan identity.

The use of positive and negative incentives in Afghanistan aimed at achieving disbandment of armed groups themselves, rather than achieving group transformation. Of these incentives, the Commander Incentive Program (CIP) sought to break the command and control of the armed groups. The positive incentives for commanders in CIP included trips to haj as well as socio-economic packages. The CIP worked while the UN was able to provide resources – meaning that the permanent break in the patronage was attainable only with a constant supply of resources.

The failure of CIP to permanently disrupt the relationships between commanders and personnel, and lack of efforts to inspire positive social and political harmony within the armed groups prevented the groups’ transformation into legitimate political bodies. Undertaking robust analysis (such as CDA) may have averted these failures. Prior knowledge of armed groups would have shown evidence of political goals, and as such transforming an armed group into a political entity may have been successful. However, the fact remains that the initial objective of the UN was not the transformation of armed groups in Afghanistan, but rather disbandment through reintegration.

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