What Afghanistan Can Learn from the Cautionary Tale of Colombia’s Terror Troubles

March 6, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Lebanon Watch Tags: AfghanistanTalibanColumbiaFARCTerrorism

What Afghanistan Can Learn from the Cautionary Tale of Colombia’s Terror Troubles

Colombia’s disarmament and reintegration camps can be used as a model for future Taliban reintegration, as they have provided a controlled space for the government to monitor ex-fighters and aid them in the reintegration process.

More broadly, the Afghan government should offer to ex-Taliban fighters a stable lifestyle with a job and family life. This is especially crucial, because similar to FARC fighters, Taliban militants tend to have poor educational backgrounds, weak family ties, and antisocial personality traits. These traits suggest the risk of former Taliban fighters leaving the reintegration process and rejoining an armed group. By providing a better life for fighters, the Afghan government can satisfy ex-militants’ wishes for jobs and security assistance and offer them something that they did not have previously.

However, even as we draw lessons for Afghanistan from Colombia, it is critical to acknowledge the major differences between the two peace processes and the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, which are not present in Colombia. For example, there are additional major violent non-state actors operating within Afghanistan—arguably more potent and lethal than those in Colombia separate from the FARC—that pose security risks and that will not be a party to a Taliban deal peace. These groups, which include the South Asia branch of ISIS, could well seek to derail the reintegration process by staging attacks in areas where reintegration activities are taking place. Additionally, in a country that is as decentralized politically as Afghanistan, the central government lacks a strong writ beyond Kabul, and this will limit its ability to manage reintegration efforts throughout the entire nation. Finally, as the war effort in Afghanistan has dragged on for years, the world has begun to experience donor fatigue. This will pose a challenge for the Afghan government, which is so heavily dependent on foreign financing, in seeking to ensure full and sustained funding for a reintegration process. Indeed, Afghanistan is significantly poorer and less developed than Colombia.

Still, despite these challenges, and given the stakes for Afghanistan’s future stability and prosperity, it’s worth trying to act on the lessons from Colombia to the extent possible. As peace deals and reintegration efforts are being drawn up for Afghanistan, Colombia provides an excellent case study of successes and failures. Colombia’s model—the use of reintegration camps and the provision of ex-fighters with a better life and opportunities—can help draw Taliban members away from their previous lives and toward a life of nonviolence and stability. The use of reintegration camps can also allow the Afghan government to track and monitor fighters to ensure their peaceful transition back into society. It is essential that these provisions remain in place throughout successive Afghan government administrations because without that guarantee the reintegration effort could easily unravel. Indeed, the ominous developments taking place in Colombia right now offer a cautionary tale.

William Shriver is an Asia Program staff intern at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Michael Kugelman is the Asia Program deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Image: Reuters