RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn our attention now to another hurdle on the way to transitioning control of Afghanistan to the Afghan government - bringing the Taliban back into Afghan society. Millions of dollars in foreign aid have gone into this, programs run by the Afghan government and the NATO-led coalition. But critics say many militants use these programs to gain access to arms and money. Here's Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analyst Network.
KATE CLARK: It's a complete disaster because there's not enough rule of law here to ensure that people will not prey on the local population again.
MARTIN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson traveled to western Afghanistan and she has more of our story.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The district of Pashtun Zarghun in Herat province is in many ways an Afghan success story. Farmers here have switched from growing opium poppies to saffron, children attend school and tribal elders work with the government to improve life for the more than 90,000 residents. But there's also a dark side to this enclave of mud homes and dirt roads a 90-minute drive from the provincial capital. In Pashtun Zarghun, residents live in constant fear of militant groups and armed gangs that terrorize the countryside.
MOHAMMED NAEEM: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Driver Mohammed Naeem says several of his relatives were ambushed and killed by the armed gunmen of one notorious warlord here. He goes by one name - Abdullah - although residents disparagingly call him Charsi, or hashish smoker. His militia, which at one point was loosely allied with the Taliban, is widely accused of murder, kidnapping and extortion.
ABDUL KARIM: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Farmer Abdul Karim describes how he was kidnapped and almost beaten to death by Abdullah's men. He alleges the warlord and his sons took part in the beatings, which lasted two weeks. Karim claims they targeted him because he was a member of the local tribal council working with the government. The farmer adds his relatives paid the equivalent of $20,000 to get him released. Both he and Naeem complain that Afghan officials have done nothing to punish the warlord or his men. They are angry that Abdullah is now protected by the government because he agreed to reconcile with it in late January. Reached by phone, Abdullah vehemently denies ever having engaged in any criminal activity.
ABDULLAH: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The 47-year-old says he decided to stop fighting his government because Western troops are leaving soon. He adds that all Afghans need to rebuild their country and that fighters like him can help keep the peace.
ABDULLAH: (Through Translator) It's a good step, this reconciliation process. But I assure you the war would end a lot sooner if the government gives rewards to those of us who agree to peace.
NELSON: Abdullah claims the Afghan government has pledged to make him the chief of the local police force in Pashtun Zarghun. Word of this spread like wildfire across the district.
NAEEM: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: We know what kind of person this guy is, says Naeem, whose relatives were killed in the ambush. The driver asks: How can Abdullah be our police chief? This guy still has armed men in the mountains and no one can move freely here because of that.
GHULAM NABI AZIZI: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Former district governor Ghulam Nabi Azizi says he quit his post in July in part because of the reconciliation with Abdullah. But he says he's not against the reintegration programs.
AZIZI: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: He says there have been some success stories, like another anti-government warlord called Suleiman Khan, who is now a respected leader in the Afghan border police. But Azizi warns there are strongmen seeking to legitimize their criminal activities under the guise of the peace process. Back in the provincial capital, Governor Daoud Sabah says Abdullah will not be put in charge of the police in Pashtun Zarghun or any other district.
DAOUD SABAH: That will not happen in Herat, I assure you, because the people of Herat do not allow it.
NELSON: Sabah adds that the reintegration programs have worked in his province. He claims that more than half of the insurgent groups here have reconciled with the government. He says only four of the 640 fighters who have laid down their arms here ended up rejoining the insurgency. The governor says the rest have been happy with jobs the government has given them on public works and agricultural projects. They also receive amnesty for crimes committed against the government, Sabah says. But he adds crimes against the people will not be forgiven. Yet no charges have been filed against Abdullah. In Pashtun Zarghun, some residents say they won't stand for Abdullah coming back in any official capacity.
NAEEM: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The driver, Naeem, says if that happens, he and others will take to the mountains and form their own militant group. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.
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