Disbanding Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) Program in Afghanistan: Flexibility of Peace Operations through Conflict Sensitive Designs.


The assumption that all peace interventions will in fact contribute to achieving peace is certainly obsolete and inaccurate. Peace operations have unintended consequences that might be harmful to the context in which they are taking place. As a result, a fundamental characteristic of peace mandates, should be continuous conflict assessments, as well as monitoring and evaluation of the mission performance.

Such characteristics implies that donors, implementing agencies and country-level partners should understand any peacekeeping operation as essentially flexible. This flexibility, in addition, does translate into the possible reconfiguration originating theories of change, as well as of goals, objectives, benchmarks and indicators. This process, might even result in the transformation of the defining goals of a mission, as some cases of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) shows.

DDR proves no different when it comes to the need to be a flexible mandate and intervention, particularly if one of the guiding principles is “Do No Harm”. This means that it has the capacity to rephrase its most essential and defining components, such as disarmament and reintegration, and replace them by context adequate initiatives and programs, or even accept a different implementing architecture. This is the case of DDR in Afghanistan.

When in 2003, a DDR mandate, the Afghan New Beginning Program (ANBP), was established by mandate of the United Nations Security Council in coordination with Afghanistan’s transitional government, the usual objective of disarmament proved to be partially effective.

As the country was still experiencing overall insecurity, and the war economy was effectively providing livelihoods, the measure to disarm seemed limited to attend illegal armed groups emerging all over the country. Giving up the arms for the case of illegal armed also proved difficult as the trust towards the “disarming” authority, the government, was still not consolidated. The measure posted the challenge of extending the mission until reconciliation and trust was achieved, or choosing to transform the fundamental concept of disarming into one of disbanding and weapons management. This resulted in the creation of the Disbanding Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) program which followed the original DDR program in 2004.

The DIAG focused on weapons management through the creation of data bases that could register and track small arms and light weapons (SALW) and positioned itself as a political guidance process as it tested a context-responsive and conflict sensitive program that was successful in such terms.

In the same manner, DDR in Afghanistan was transformed by the DIAG in its reintegration component in terms of responsibility to execute. As part of the follo-up to ANBP DDR, the ‘Disbanding’ a new architecture for implementation and funding was suggested to decentralize the reintegration component in order to prevent the concentration of resources among one particular group or region,

These to aspects illustrate the importance of thinking about DDR with updated approaches and Theories of Change, flexibility and conflict sensitivity. If transitioning is a big achievement within peace consolidation, thus the importance of transitioning from DDR mandates to other security-governance options and modalities may enhance DDR and the entire reintegration process.  

Family, Reintegration & DDR:


– by Ardra Manasi:  The New School

The measurement of DDR outcomes and the evaluation of its success often poses serious challenges. The complexity of the third generation DDR approaches, typified by measures in countering violent extremism (CVE), lies in its shift of engagement from state centric actors to non-state actors, that include often violent extremist (VE) groups like Taliban as in the context of Afghanistan. How does one measure the success of DDR in such a setting? The conventional measurement parameters like the number of weapons collected, the funds utilized and the number of ex-combatants demobilized might present a useful scenario. But can a non-conventional measurement parameter like monitoring the number of days that the individual militant spent with his/her family after demobilization be a useful measure to guide DDR practitioners? How far can family be helpful in understanding an individual’s integration into the community at large?

The Integrated IDDR Standards, the key operational guidelines for implementing DDR on the ground does not pay much attention to the role of family in its reintegration efforts. The disarmament and demobilization phase is followed by ex-combatants eventually returning to their homes, often equipped with socio-economic reinsertion packages. But it is useful to think about of how ‘home’/ ‘family’ becomes a site of both confrontation and adaptation. Is the combatant’s family receptive and welcoming? Or are they hostile and condescending? This gets even more worse for women ex-combatants returning home as they are perceived to have defied their gender roles by taking up arms (The case of women ex-combatants in Sri Lanka’s LTTE illustrate this).

Can an ex- combatant’s family play a role in ensuring that he doesn’t take up arms again? Conversely, what role may a family play in willfully getting an ex-combatnat to become a recidivist?  The family members can turn out to be either positive or negative influencers i.e they can either play a role in “radicalization” of fighters or can play a reformatory role. The latter revealing fact can be leveraged for reintegration efforts, especially for engaging with VE groups. For instance, the family members of such groups can receive special training in terms of taking care of the psychological needs of these ex-combatants and also for aiding in their de-radicalization efforts, supported by the UN or other community organizations. Drawing upon the case of Iraq, Doug Stone (2015), the brain behind the ‘Rome Memorandum’ (a compendium of best practices for rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders) argues that for addressing radicalization issues among the violent extremists, the receiving community should be involved along with the militants, either one-on-one or in groups.

Ex-combatants often end up caught between their old extremist affiliations and the very society or community they sought to represent in their struggle. Usually, to the ex-combatant, the former extremist linkages have become unattractive and while the society they seek to integrate into has little need for them. Being caught in such a bind, this results in maladjustment and worse, an incentive to relapse into old ways of violence, criminal behavior, or extremism. This often results from a feeling of being unwanted in their old homes and an ongoing sense of drift. This is particularly true of non-ideological foot soldiers who, unlike ideological leaders, were conscripted into violent struggles to provide “muscle”.  It is here that the families become very important in terms of actively participating in the ex-combatant’s ‘normalization’ process.

Instead of a homogenous rehabilitation package devised for treating individual combatants as an undifferentiated mass, a more effective approach is one that is tiered in how it is administered, is continuously engaged over time, and multi-pronged as far as interventions are concerned.  To this end, this could include bringing families of those affected into community events together, to help them understand the pitfalls and potentialities ahead for themselves and the ex-combatants. This could also involve sensitizing the wives of men who have returned and helping them to cope with the returnee’s stress which may result in psycho-sexual anxieties as well.  On an economic front, if packages for families are tied to the ex-fighters’ continued cooperation and non-violence, there is a collective pressure at work that forces the fighter to aid his family on one end, while simultaneously, it allows the family to see the fighter as one among them.  Furthermore, the family members can be trusted sources for providing reliable information about the ex-combatants and their interactions once they are back home in terms of psychological profiles by a non-professional third party.

It is equally important to design DDR policies which address the psycho-social needs of such families who often face social stigma and alienation from the rest of the community. Developing policy guidelines in the IDDRS for family based integration as a component of ‘Reintegration’ can be a right step in this direction.


Utilizing Qualitative Indicators in DDR: Case Examples of Success.

By Meredith Bapir

Practitioners in DDR note the need for both quantitative and qualitative indicators. Quantitative indicators are often reflected as outputs, or measured results that are numerical such as the number of arms collected in the field. Qualitative indicators are more often tied in with medium to long-term outcomes that measure the longer results of a program and its attributed successes. It can take into account feelings, belief systems, and cultural and historical affinities. Qualitatively a program can be indicated, for example, by how a community feels about the success of a reintegration project.

Little emphasis has been given, however, on using qualitative indicators to document progress. Quantitative indicators, due to their numeric nature, are often easier to gather and can quickly satisfy donor requirements. Qualitative indicators often involve multiple steps of acquiring permissions and participations from stakeholders in addition to setting up focus groups, surveys, and interviews.

While gathering qualitative indicators may seem like a daunting task, they provide a more well-rounded assessment of DDR programs. Take, for example, the DDR program in Sierra Leone. The main objective of the reintegration component of the DDR program was to support the return of ex-combatants to their home communities. Through conducting qualitative research, practitioners noted that it was the opportunity of ex-combatants to “dine, mix, and socialize” with the local community that facilitated their entry back into society. Quantitative evidence could only prove the “causal impact of community infrastructure and short-term employment projects” but it did not showcase the full picture of Sierra Leone’s reintegration struggle. It was therefore imperative in this example to provide both a mixture of quantitative and qualitative factors to view the program’s success.

Contrastingly, Liberia’s focus on only quantitative indicators caused a false reading on the success of the DDR program. This program chose to focus on mostly quantitative indicators such as the amount of weapons collected per overall number of ex-combatants. A narrow focus on indicators attributed to gross mismanagement and misdirection of the program, to where reintegration did not even occur. The inclusion of qualitative indicators would have showed a more well-rounded picture of the program and could have possibly attributed to some success.

Utilizing a qualitative process also allows practitioners to reassess their approach to a DDR program. For example, practitioners in Haiti were able to gauge the importance of focusing on a community-based approach to stemming communal violence. Practitioners in Somalia noted that quantitative indicators were continuously changing due to the dynamic and volatile security environment within the country. Qualitatively addressing the situation allowed for an evaluation to be conducted that called for a change in direction by assessing the changing dynamics in the field.

Qualitative indicators should be continuously emphasized in the field and partnered with quantitative indicators to provide a full assessment of the DDR program.



Measuring Progress or Measuring Success? Thoughts on M&E in Next Generation DDR

During a briefing in Haiti, Desmond Molloy, former chief DDR implementer of DPKO, recalls a struggling DDR program. Long gone were the days of first generation, state building DDR in Africa. Desmond was faced with a dilemma: should he follow traditional protocols that didn’t apply to the power structure and conflict in Haiti or should he create a new program that embraced the changing dynamics of DDR?

In the end, he, with an ‘integrated’ team from DPKO and UNDP, created and piloted the Community Violence Reduction (CVR) approach and programme as a way to engage the Haitian community and reintegrate gang members. As I sit here flipping through piles of notes, I wonder what innovative approach can be applied to the monitoring and evaluation process in DDR, and if there is any way to take inspiration from Desmond’s actions.

Three main guides on utilizing M&E in DDR programs exist. They are authored by the IDDRS, UNDP, and S/CRS. The practical dilemmas that these three guides pose is highlighted below:

  1. Generic Objectives, Generic Indicators

Using quantitative indicators can help with tracking the progress of disarmament and demobilization. For example, one way is to count how many guns are still believed to exist in a community and how many have been collected. However, quantitative indicators do little to measure reintegration, the most time consuming and often rushed and/or neglected component of DDR. I posit that measuring reintegration in DDR should focus on qualitative indicators, such as interviewing community members and creating focus group studies.

  1. Power of Outside Influences and Assumptions

More emphasis should be given on the power of outside influences and how that ultimately affects the program. This should be integrated in the logical framework and not just the overarching report. Equally important are assumptions that DDR practitioners can identify that may prohibit or weaken the progress of the program.

  1. Measuring Success

Often DDR is measured not in success but in failure. I posit challenging this thought process to erase the dichotomy of success/failure in monitoring and evaluating a DDR program. If the DDR program “succeeds” in demobilization and reintegration but the ex combatants refuse to give up their guns, has the program failed? I argue that focus should be on individual objectives and not on the program as an overall whole. This is a very difficult approach that should be handled with care when presented to donors. More research needs to be carefully conducted on this subject.

By Meredith Bapir