Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Commanders Recruiting Disarmed Soldiers

Some northern generals appear to be subverting a UN programme designed to disarm their powerful militias.
By Yaqub Ibrahimi

Four years ago, when he was 15, Enayatullah was forced to leave his job as a shepherd and work for militia commander Abdul Mohammed in the northern region of Jowzjan province.


But after quitting this July - under a UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, DDR - his former commander forced him to rejoin.


He had just started attending workshops so he could acquire the skills needed to re-enter civilians life when he was re-recruited.


"I turned in my weapon through the DDR programme, but the local commanders armed me again and now I am a soldier," he said.


IWPR has since learned that many soldiers who participated in the DDR programme have subsequently been forcefully recruited back by local commanders.


Milos Krsmanovic, head of the northern regional office for DDR, confirmed the reports but said he could not give exact numbers.


"We received the list of the commanders who have recruited the disarmed soldiers and we sent it to our main office in Kabul to hand it over to the defence ministry," said Krsmanovic, who refused to identify the commanders or where exactly they operated.


Defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi told IWPR that the ministry had not received any information about disarmed soldiers rejoining militias. He said that the number of commanders on such a list would be very few, if such cases even existed.


He added that the practice was against the law and that the government was not prepared to forgive soldiers involved.


To date, over 16,000 soldiers and officers have been disarmed through the DDR programme. Of that number, more than 13,000 have undergone training - during which they receive 30 US dollars a day - in such areas as basic literacy, de-mining, agriculture, small business, teaching, carpentry, tailoring, mechanics and metal work. Some of the latter have joined the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police. Participants are paid 30 US dollars a month during the training period.


DDR began in October 2003. The goal of the programme is to disarm 40,000 militia members by the October presidential election and 100,000 by the end of 2006.


Many of the fighters who have participated in the programme say they’ve become discouraged when they see other demobilised soldiers in their classes rejoining the militias.


At one workshop in Jowzjan, an IWPR reporter observed that out of eight participants, four ended up being re-recruited by local commanders and didn’t return to the programme.


Enayatullah described in detail his experience. "The commanders didn’t know that I was going to the workshop,” he said. “I promised them I wasn’t attending the workshop, because they would beat me otherwise.”


Displaying bruises on his body, he said, “Once the commander learned that I was going to the workshop, he beat me. And I was in jail for a week.


"In addition to being a soldier, I have to perform hard labour as punishment for participating in the DDR programme.”


Enayatullah, whose father is blind, is responsible for financially supporting nine members of his family.


"Despite my [financial] problems I want to become a mechanic and earn Halal [legal and according to Islam] money, if the commanders let me," he said, his eyes welling up with tears.


Enayatullah said presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum is ultimately the head of his militia.


Jowzjan province is one of the main bases for militias linked to Dostum, the leader of the militarised faction Junbesh-e-Milli-ye-Islami.


Enalyatullah said other disarmed soldiers have also been forced by commanders working under Dostum to take up weapons again.


An IWPR reporter spoke to a 26-year-old militia member who had also gone through the disarmament programme.


The soldier, who declined to give his name, was attending a carpentry class. He explained that he had served in Commander Saifuddin’s militia for four-and-a-half years before leaving in July to participate in the DDR scheme.


But he said Saifuddin, a local commander who has been linked to Dostum, brought him back into the militia. Now he attends the carpentry classes secretly.


"Saifuddin’s soldiers are made to go on patrols, and do what ever he wants,” he said. “As long as he’s there, you’re not free to go."


Azizullah Kargar, Dostum’s deputy in Junbesh, insisted that the general is in no way associated with any militias.


“We haven't learned about these kinds of incidents," he said. "Junbesh is a political organisation and in line with the Parties Law of Afghanistan, it doesn't have any commander in its structure." He explained that Dostum had resigned from his post of deputy defence minister to run for president.


Some worry that the return of demobilised soldiers to their former militias could jeopardise next month’s presidential elections.


"If those who have gone through the DDR process continue to return to the militias, we will have elections under the shadow of weapons," said political analyst Habibullah Rafi.


Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.