On June 30, 2005, Afghanistan concluded the Disarmament Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process. During the closing ceremony, President Hamid Karzai called the experience a success and symbolically accepted the last weapon from a commander (Afghan Tolo TV, July 9).
Ariane Quentier, a spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told a press conference in Kabul: “Today, Afghanistan marks the formal end of the disarmament and demobilization components of DDR, one of the key elements of the peace process started in Bonn in December 2001.” This was the third phase of the DDR, which started in March 2005. The process sought to disarm about 100,000 former combatants and integrate them into civilian life while creating a new, professional Afghan National Army. “As of today,” said Quentier, “62,901 former combatants have been disarmed while the Ministry of Defense has collected 34,726 light weapons.” She also noted that 9,085 heavy-weapons components have been collected (Pajhwok News, July 9).
DDR wrapped up at a time when there is increasing concern about Afghanistan’s security ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. A new process has already begun to disarm the remaining militia groups.
The DDR process was created in April 2003 and the first phase of the operation began July 1, 2003. The operation focused on the provinces of Kunduz, Bamiyan, and Khost. The total budget for the DDR process was estimated at $83 million, largely covered by donations from the Japanese government.
The full reintegration of former combatants will take another year. The DDR has processed a total of 61,417 former Afghan militia members, and 52,509 have received reintegration assistance packages. Some 40,000 of these former fighters have either become members of the new Afghan National Army or undergone training to acquire the skills they need for civilian jobs (Cheragh, July 10).
With the end of DDR, the government began another process: the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG). The difference between DDR and DIAG is that the former was voluntary from the onset, while the latter will run on a voluntary basis for the first two months of the program. After that, the Interior Ministry will begin the process of forcible disarmament. Like the DDR process, the Japanese government will finance the new program. DIAG will be run by the Interior and Defense Ministries and the national security agency, and overseen by the UN.
According to Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal, the government already has the intelligence it needs to make the program a success. “We now know how many weapons each commander has, and where they are stored,” he said (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, July 8).
The news of the DDR’s success, as well as the announcement of the new process, is a relief to war-weary Afghans, who earnestly want the parliamentary elections to take place. However, the events of the last few months, including the assassinations of religious scholars and parliamentary candidates, have created doubts about the government’s ability to conduct the weapon-collection process.
The problem is simply not the presence of the weapons in the country, but the legitimacy with which these weapons were originally given and are held. Some of the big names among the powerful militia leaders are associated with the government as well as the coalition forces. These weapons were given to them in the early days of the fall of the Taliban to secure their help in the war on terror. Now that the focus for cooperation in fighting the terrorists has shifted from the militia commanders to the Afghan National Army, these commanders feel they deserve a reward as former allies of the coalition forces. The possession of weapons not only gives them power in the countryside, but also political clout in Kabul.
Given the Afghan government’s inability to stop the violence and the coalition forces’ inability to secure the borders and stop infiltration, the militia commanders indeed feel threatened by the surge in violence. In a country marked by more than two decades of war, having the weapons is the only insurance the commanders feel they have.
Yet many Afghans remain hopeful that the new program will be successful. “There are still a lot of armed men in the villages,” says a young man from Kabul. “There will be no peace until these men are disarmed. All the robberies and murders are carried out by these local commanders and armed men.”