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
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.
that mid-level commanders and rank-and-file
fighters could be lured away.
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
, more than they would earn joining the Afghan national
army, and certainly more than the nation's unemployed, who make up 35
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.
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