Create Taliban Unemployment Insurance

Since President Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy and promised to "open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence," reconciliation with insurgents has been central to the U.S.-led effort. The Taliban remains so deeply enmeshed in the economy and politics of Afghanistan's Pashtun minority that peace would likely be impossible without their participation. Many top leaders are probably too ideologically committed to be turned, but U.S. officials believe that mid-level commanders and rank-and-file fighters could be lured away.

Military estimates indicate that 80 to 90 percent of militants held at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan joined the Taliban for reasons besides ideology, primarily financial. The Taliban pays insurgents $300 per month, more than they would earn joining the Afghan national army, and certainly more than the nation's unemployed, who make up 35 percent of the total workforce. If those detainees are representative of the Taliban as a whole, then offering reconcilable insurgents a better-paying job--or even a lower-salaried job that lacks the risk of combat--could pry them away from the Taliban.

But there's a problem with this approach. As any U.S. auto worker can tell you, changing industries can be an expensive and lengthy proposition. One has to acquire new skills, find and apply for a new job, and sometimes move to a new location. This transitional period would be especially important for a Taliban insurgent looking for work, as he likely joined the Taliban as a young man, lacking education or skills, or, in the case of 57 percent of males, even literacy. He almost certainly doesn't have a savings account. Even if he wanted to lay down his arms and take up a peaceful job, he couldn't afford the time off.

U.S. workers can count on the assistance of unemployment insurance. Why not offer a similar program to Taliban fighters looking to get into a new line of work, offering a livable wage and training programs over a finite period on the condition that the recipient find legitimate employment. Like the U.S. version, the social service could ultimately strengthen the workforce and bolster the economy, both of which would alleviate the country's conflict-fueling instability. The funding could come from U.S. foreign aid, but be administered by Afghan officials. Running the program through the Afghan government would build Afghan trust in and reliance on governance, reducing the influence of the warlords and insurgencies that got us into Afghanistan in the first place.

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