Afghan Militia Commanders Find New Purpose Hundreds of militia commanders in Afghanistan are being retrained after decades spent fighting Soviet forces and other militias. The disarmament program includes training in computers, English, human rights, even accounting. But some of the fighters say the new skills simply aren't enough.
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Afghan Militia Commanders Find New Purpose

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Afghan Militia Commanders Find New Purpose

Afghan Militia Commanders Find New Purpose

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Across Afghanistan, more than 60,000 militia fighters have been disarmed over the last three years. As part of the U.N.-funded program, hundreds of former militia commanders also take a three-week course. It's designed to teach these fighters how to reenter civilian society. But what if these former commanders aren't able to find jobs? Will they pick up arms again?

NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Kabul.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

The classroom is in the gritty basement of a large white and yellow house in the Kabul neighborhood of Kartuparone(ph). The students are 20 former commanders from all parts of Afghanistan who gave up their arms and disbanded their militias roughly one year ago. Today's lesson: conflict resolution.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: A crisis happens when your patience level drops and you can no longer control your emotions, the teacher explains. Some of the men stroke their beards as they listen. Others fidget in their small school desks with a look of skepticism. The teacher points to a cartoon on an overhead projector depicting two Afghan men, first arguing then punching each other, then reconciling with a hug.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: Out of all these scenarios, which one is the best outcome? The teacher asks. Everyone chimes in to give the obvious answer. A lesson about loving your neighbor seems overly simplified at best in a room full some of Afghanistan's most battle-hardened commanders, men who led militias during the war against Soviet forces and the ensuing Afghan civil conflict. The students learn other things as well: English, finance, accounting and computers.

Sarajinin Saffi(ph), the director of the program, says overall the course makes a significant impact by bringing together former adversaries, teaching them skills and preparing them for civilian life.

Mr. SARAJININ SAFFI (Director of Disarmament Program): Some of them were fighting against each other. At the beginning, first it's not acceptable for them, but after that, when they're sitting around one table and learning in one room and sitting in one class, absolutely they are changing their mind.

MARTIN: The disarmament program in Afghanistan ended last summer, and since then the focus has been in rehabilitating and reintegrating these men into society. The commanders in the program are given a monthly salary as part of their agreement to disarm, anywhere from $300 to $650 a month for two years.

But the U.N. is ending the program this summer, leaving the Afghan government responsible for finding them long-term employment. That raises concerns among some students like Hadji Arajan(ph), a former militia leader from Kapisa Province, who only had six years of elementary education before he joined the Jihad against the Soviets.

Mr. HADJI ARAJAN (Former Militia Leader; Student, Disarmament Program): (Through Translator) These are very important people. They have been head commander or head of the army divisions and head of the regiments. And it's possible that they go back and join the militia, if they are not helped by the government.

MARTIN: Richard Scarth is with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and an advisor on the disarmament program. He says the three-week training course is a good start, but it's hardly enough to ensure these former warriors a sustainable, peaceful livelihood.

Mr. RICHARD SCARTH (U.S. Agency for International Development): Their skills don't match civilian requirements. It's going to be very difficult for them to earn anything like what they used to earn. And then that causes problems for them.

MARTIN: Scarth says that will also mean problems for Afghanistan, because unless they're able to find well-paying, respectable work, these men could be pressured into joining armed groups or the resurgent Taliban.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: Having completed their course, the 20 commanders gather in a backyard garden with national dignitaries to commemorate their graduation. General Abdullah Joyenda of the Ministry of Defense offers his congratulations.

General ABDULLAH JOYENDA (Ministry of Defense, Afghanistan): (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: You are the hero mujahidin who fought in the resistance, he says. Today, we are proud of you that you can now take part in the reconstruction of your country. He promises them jobs in the army or police force and international diplomats praise the former commanders as community leaders.

But just before receiving those certificates, the commanders deliver their own message. One of the students, Ghulam Sari Wassex(ph) stands up.

Mr. GHULAM SARI WASSEX (Graduate, Disarmament Program): (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: We've done our part by disarming and going through the course. Now we'd like the Afghan government to do its part in protecting us in our new civilian lives, he says, by issuing us guns.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Kabul.

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