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Afghanistan: UN Office Begins Disarmament, But Not Without Facing A Fight

The United Nations office in Kabul says it will soon launch a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program in Afghanistan. But after more than two decades of war, many mujahedin are reluctant to give up their weapons. They say fighting is the only occupation they know and one they will not give up without a firm government promise of other employment or education opportunities. Local warlords warn that mujahedin are capable of destabilizing the country if the situation is not handled properly. RFE/RL reports on preparations for the disarmament process in Afghanistan's Parwan Province.

Prague, 28 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations has yet to initiate its $130 million Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program targeting some 100,000 former mujahedin in Afghanistan. But some local experts say the natural place to kick off the plan is Parwan Province.

Parwan was the military base for late Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's anti-Taliban resistance. Now it is home to tens of thousands of armed fighters loyal to Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim -- like Mas'ud, an ethnic Tajik from the Panjshir Valley.

These are men who will not give up their weapons without a struggle. More than two decades of war have left them with no profession beyond fighting. Tens of thousands of former mujahedin in Parwan have received little or no education. Most of them have no job qualifications.

Abdul Habib is one such former mujahed in Parwan. He says he will not consider handing over his weapon anytime soon. Despite promises from the government to pay the mujahedin's back wages and help them find new work, Habib said the only thing he has received in a year and a half are empty promises.

"We want our wages for the past two years. During the 23 years of the civil war we didn't have the chance to get an education. We don't know anything except war and weapons. We want to know what's going to happen to us, what we could do if we handed over our weapons. We're not going to give our weapons away unless it becomes clear what's going to happen to us next," Habib told RFE/RL.

Another Parwan mujahed, who refused to give his name, said he has always trusted the new Afghan government, but that his hopes are beginning to fade. "I am one of the mujahedin. I want to say to the international community and to our government that we are committed to our government's plans and programs, as long as they pay our unpaid wages. Our commanders made us fight for the country for 23 years. Now we are not going to give up our weapons and go away. We need our future to be clarified," he said.

In the meantime, weapons registration has begun in Parwan in preparation for disarmament. The UN office is providing funds only to those armed units which register with the Defense Ministry.

The UN has allocated $130 million for the three-year DDR program. It estimates that some $30 million will be spent during the first year of the DDR process. Most of the funds were provided by Japan, Canada, and Britain.

The UN's spokesman in Kabul, Manuel de Almeida e Silva, told RFE/RL that members of the registered units will be given the choice of joining the new national army or returning to civilian life. Former mujahedin who opt for the army will receive additional military training.

For those who want to quit military life, the Afghan government has created New Beginnings, a special program to provide job and educational opportunities for former mujahedin.

"If they want to go into civilian life, then they are interviewed, their skills, need and requirements are identified, and they go home with a lump sum and some food assistance, which is also true for those who go into army," the UN's Manuel de Almeida e Silva told RFE/RL. "Then they will come back some six to eight weeks later, and by that time hopefully, the government's New Beginning program will provide a job opportunity for them in light of these characteristics they have, or training and education programs depending on the information they provided during the interview I mentioned."

Mawlana Abdul Rahman, a local commander, expressed concern that his troops, who have already gone a year and a half with no wages, may not be patient for much longer. He said the situation could easily spin out of control if the central government fails to handle the situation in a proper and timely fashion.

"We propose that the UN and the Defense Ministry pay their wages for this period, and also assist them in finding a job. Otherwise the troops will be beyond out control. These armed men are capable of destabilizing the country. Al-Qaeda is still in Afghanistan and could take advantage of the situation. I can predict that it could lead to dangerous consequences," Rahman said.

Civilians in Parwan have spent years watching clashes, bombs, and rocket fire for years. Some, like this man, say they are tired of war and weapons and want to finally be able to live a normal life. "The disarmament is inevitable across Afghanistan. As long as people are armed, we cannot have a normal life. And normal communication between neighbors, between communities, will not be possible," he said.

For the moment, the chance to return to normal life in Parwan and throughout the country depends on the progress on reforms at the Defense Ministry.

The UN's office in Kabul was due to launch its DDR plan earlier this month. But it postponed its plan, saying it will not fund the project until the Defense Ministry carries out reforms aimed at diversifying its staff. Defense Minister Fahim has been criticized for filling the ministry with his fellow Panjshir Valley Tajiks. The UN says the situation has left many Afghans looking at the ministry as a factional body rather than a national institution.

Both the government and the UN office confirm the reform process is now under way at the ministry.

(Ahmad Hanaish of RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report.)

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.