Friday, February 9, 2007

Ex-Taliban fighter wants Canada to pay for guns

i'm sceptical that this would have any long-term effect ...

Cash for guns deal proposed
Ex-Taliban fighter wants Canada to pay remaining insurgents to surrender their weapons

Vancouver Sun, 8 Feb 07

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Mullah Zahir said he has fired rockets, machineguns and his Kalashnikov assault rifle at Canadian troops, but the Taliban fighter decided to come in from the cold last year after an influential elder he respects convinced him those foreign soldiers he was aiming to kill are actually trying to help Afghanistan.

"Yes, we fought against the Canadians here, they were our enemies," said Zahir, 48, who was deputy to a powerful official in the Taliban regime who later became an insurgent commander.

Since becoming Kandahar's director last spring of a two-year-old national reconciliation program, Haji Agha Lalai Dasthaqir -- a district tribal chief in Panjwaii and member of the provincial council -- has been luring almost 50 insurgents a month, such as *Zahir*, out of the fight.

"Nobody listens to (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, but they listen to (Agha Lalai) because he is a trusted tribal leader," said Zahir. "Before, we didn't give this much consideration, but when he became director, I joined (the peace process) -- he's a big leader."


Now, with a looming Taliban spring offensive predicted by many, Agha Lalai said he can convince many more to lay down their arms. But to do so, he added, he wants Canada to pay the insurgents to surrender their weapons.

"According to my information, there are hundreds of Taliban who will take part," Agha Lalai told Can West News Service.

*Zahir* said many of his former comrades would follow his path but they need assurances of work and income so they can feed their families.

"The Canadians are going to look at this immediately," said Col. Fred Lewis, second-in-command of the almost 2,500 Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan.

Although Agha Lalai said he had approached a Canadian commander several weeks ago, Lewis told CanWest News Service Wednesday it was the first time he had heard of the offer.

"The last thing you really want to do is kill the insurgent. What you want to do is convince the insurgent . . . to follow his government," said Lewis.

Asked whether removing several hundred Taliban fighters from a possible spring battlefield is worth investigating a possible deal to purchase weapons from the enemy, he added: Absolutely."

Agha Lalai has persuaded 340 insurgents so far to quit the fight in Kandahar Province, and on Tuesday he shipped another 25 former Taliban fighters to Kabul to receive a brief orientation before they are allowed back to their homes.


Nationally, almost 3,000 Taliban have signed on for the amnesty program.

Returning home, however, isn't always possible. *Zahir* said he has received death threats and can't go back to his Panjwaii home.

"They will kill me," said the former Taliban fighter, who lives with his wife and eight children in a safe house in Kandahar City.

Last week, in an attempt to encourage more of his former comrades to put down their weapons, *Zahir* sent a friend to nearby Maiwand District, just to the west of the area Canada's battle group appears to have wrested from the insurgents.

"When he got there, the Taliban killed him," said *Zahir*.

After the Taliban fell in 2001 following the U.S.-led invasion, *Zahir* fled to neighbouring Pakistan with his boss, Mullah Ibrahim.

"In Pakistan, there was pressure -- the mullahs were insisting we fight," said *Zahir*. And so he and hundreds of other Pashtun under Ibrahim's command armed themselves and returned to wage jihad in Kandahar City and in their Panjwaii District homeland to the west.

Both locations in southern Afghanistan were where the Canadian troops took the brunt of the attacks by Taliban insurgents last year, which saw the deaths of an estimated 4,000 people, mostly Taliban fighters.

Thirty-six Canadian soldiers and a Canadian diplomat were among the dead.

A deathly ill Ibrahim was arrested two days after Capt. Nichola Goddard was killed last May 17 during a protracted firefight between Canadians and the Taliban in Panjwaii.

A month later, a healthy Ibrahim was released under the reconciliation peace process. He told media then he would support the new government, and he and Agha Lalai, at the time, denied reports Ibrahim's men had been involved in actions specifically targeting the Canadian battle group.

In an interview in a Kandahar City office with Agha Lalai present, *Zahir* conceded his group, numbering hundreds, fought the Canadians, but, when asked, he denied ever having killed anyone.

*Zahir* said of Ibrahim's group of 500 Taliban -- a government source last year put the figure at up to 150 -- he was one of about 60 who quit to join the reconciliation process.

"Some of the others, the Taliban, we are still in touch, negotiating, hoping to bring them in," said *Zahir*.


Agha Lalai said posters have gone up advertising the amnesty program and he and other government officials are reaching out via the tribal elders and at shuras, or village council meetings. He said letters are also being sent to known Taliban. They are being told the Afghan government is Muslim and that the soldiers "are our friends."

"Whoever gets to know and learn about what the soldiers are really doing, they are coming in and taking part in the reconstruction," Agha Lalai said.

Based on Agha Lalai's appeal, Lewis said he wants to find out more about the amnesty program -- which isn't intended for hardline Taliban.

Lewis added it doesn't necessarily have to involve cash incentives.

"A better answer than paying them $100 for their AK-47 would be to say, 'Hey, boys, we got a hundred spots for you in the technical college in Kandahar City. That's way better, and at the end of that you're going to be a carpenter or a plumber or a bricklayer or whatever." Just not an insurgent taking aim at a Canadian.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar Province on Wednesday, two Afghan guards were killed in Maiwand District when a roadside bomb blew up as a private aid convoy passed, and three Afghan police officers were killed when a suicide bomber struck a checkpoint in neighbouring Zhari District.

Last week, Karzai repeated an offer he first made two years ago to hold government talks with the Taliban insurgents, an invitation they've rejected in the past.