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How Effective Is The Peace Program That Pays Taliban To Leave The Fight?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For several years, the international community has actually been paying low-level members of the Taliban to hand over their weapons and give up the fight. The project is called the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program. And it's now up for review because funds are drying up.

Douglas Keh is country director for the United Nations Development Program, which helps administer the reintegration effort. He told us via Skype from Kabul that the program was started back in 2010 with high hopes.

DOUGLAS KEH: The monthly allowance for many of these ex-combatants was about $100 a month. Back then, the basic assumption was that it was, indeed, economic factors that were driving the conflict and that would therefore be able to lead many of these fighters away from the fighting force.

MARTIN: I don't have to tell you there have been countless accountability reports by the U.S., by the U.N. that detail the widespread corruption within various parts of the Afghan government. Are you sure that that money has gone to where it was supposed to go?

KEH: We can't say that every dollar was used in its intended purposes. That can't really be said for, I would say, hardly anything here in Afghanistan. But I do believe that, overall, our focus on monitoring the funds was successful. Was the program successful in terms of achieving the right goals? That's a different question. When we look back now - in retrospect, you know, it's always 20/20 hindsight. But the basic idea of using a DDR program - disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program prior to a peace agreement - you know, those of us who are here now, we look back and say - what was the rationale behind that? - because usually, there should be some real...

MARTIN: Peace first and then demobilization?

KEH: That - you know, that was flipped in this particular case. And I guess there was quite a strong, I don't know, maybe hope is too idealistic a word. But there was some aspiration that, indeed, by using this type of, you know, funding - international support, we could chip away at the monolith of the insurgency to draw away from the conflict fighters that would be motivated by financial incentives.

MARTIN: Although that's totally - it's not sustainable, is it? I mean, for a short-term gain, but - do you just continue to subsidize these fighters and to pay for their loyalty?

KEH: Well, in all development work, the basic idea is, you know, use initial financial support as a catalyst. But also focus on the long-term market-driven factors that can create jobs for the long term. Again, if we had had the chance to do this all over again, I think we would focus much more - well, number one, on seeing what we could do, even in the absence of a peace agreement that would be sustainable - and that's a mistake we made. The government needs to be coming up with a new Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Program Chapter 2.

MARTIN: Would a Afghan Reconciliation Program Part 2 even work today without a peace deal? - because there still is not a peace deal.

KEH: You know, there's been 15 years of, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars of support to Afghanistan. But there hasn't been enough focus on - how can we build the foundations for this government to govern independently? And that's how I would describe the basic term of capacity-building. And, you know, I anticipate the next four years will probably be the last significant for international aid going to Afghanistan.

We would need to do everything we can in the next four years to build those foundations. And at this point, you know, the government is still 95 percent dependent on donor aid for its development - 95 percent. So I believe that we can do a lot, even in the absence and being realistic this time, not putting the cart before the horse, saying look - progress towards a peace agreement is underway. But we're not there yet. And we shouldn't take anything for granted like last time.

MARTIN: Douglas Keh is the country doctor for the U.N. Development Program in Afghanistan. Thank you so much for talking with us.

KEH: Thank you for covering this important issue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.