Can the US Buy Peace in Afghanistan?
Policy + Politics

Can the US Buy Peace in Afghanistan?

© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Even after 15 years of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, there appears to be no end in sight to the fighting that racks the country. And now an international effort designed to reduce violence by disarming and de-radicalizing Taliban militants is about to run out of cash.

The Washington Post reports that the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, a six-year-old effort that the U.S. and other countries have funded with about $200 million, has been suspended while officials reexamine its goals.

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An integral part of the program was to pay militants to transfer their loyalty, and their weapons, to the Afghan government in order to serve as informal peacekeepers in a country dominated by militias.

However, only 11,077 militants have signed up for the program — a minority of the 30,000 to 50,000 Taliban fighters estimated to be in Afghanistan — and local officials can’t be sure how many are loyal to Kabul. In addition, only 9,800 weapons have been turned over, a small number given the proliferation of arms in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, auditors have struggled to track how the money, which includes $50 million from the U.S., has been spent, and some are wondering whether the program is worth the expense.

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“One important premise that underpinned the overall strategy was that peace was imminent,” Douglas Keh, country director for the U.N. Development Program, which oversees the effort, told the Post. “At the time, the international community had its reason to be guided by this assumption, but what was hoped for did not come about.”

A report last year from the U.S. Institute of Peace, quoted in the Post, said that although violent extremist groups in Afghanistan are unpopular, their ideologies have not been effectively countered by the Afghan government and the international community.

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New funds for the program would need to be raised at an international summit in Brussels in October. The reintegration program would need at least $50 million to $75 million, which will be tough given the global economic picture and the uncertainty about the program’s effectiveness.

In the meantime, the administration is also spending roughly $33 million in Afghanistan on programs to counter violent extremism, from giving skateboard lessons to under-the-table payments to moderate clerics.