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mattbrowne's avatar

Do 'exit programs' for Islamists actually work?

Asked by mattbrowne (31449 points ) January 29th, 2010

It sounds like a promising idea: Instead of confronting the Taliban on the battlefield, why not pay them to give up violence? But such programs have been tried before, and they have one major disadvantage: They tend only to work when the insurgents are already losing.

Germany wants to contribute €50 million to the Taliban “exit” program in Afghanistan. The idea is to undercut support for the insurgency by helping individual Taliban leave their group, de-radicalize and re-integrate into Afghan society. Sounds like a great plan, but how do these programs actually work?

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,674593,00.html

Any thoughts?

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21 Answers

Snarp's avatar

They work quite well with some, not so well with others. It hinges on whether they are really die hard ideologues or whether they are fighting for the Taliban largely because it puts food on the table. The good news is that most of the rank and file tend to be of the second type. It worked quite well in Iraq, and can largely be credited with the current level of stability there. The really tricky part is how long do you plan to keep paying them? At some point they have to be able to integrate into a stable, self-sufficient economy without foreign governments providing the cash.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’m in favor of drying up black markets for hard drugs. Addicts should get the stuff from doctors instead of dealers who buy the stuff from the Taliban. They would lose their source of income. Some people who work for the Taliban simply need a job and there are not enough alternatives.

marinelife's avatar

I think it would shrink the numbers to hard-core insurgents, which would be a good thing.

Snarp's avatar

@mattbrowne Reducing the market for illegal drugs would definitely help. Maybe in Germany your idea would be palatable, but America is not going to go for it. I wonder if it would work though. Once there is a legal outlet for opium products, there is no longer any need for them to be grown in Afghanistan at all. That’s a big hit for the Taliban’s biggest earner. Of course then they would turn more to kidnapping for profit.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Good question. It seems like a good idea, but its ultimate objective should be to create a stable economy rather than a state dependent on foriegn charity.

Even if the militants are reduced to the hard-core radicals, there will still be a problem. In the tribal areas there is a custom of hospitality known as “pushtun wali”. Once a person has been recieved as a guest in a home or a tribal area, the individual or tribe is obligated to protect and shelter him, indefinitely. Many of these foreign jihadists have taken advantage of this to the detriment of the people hosting them. It will take a major cultural paradigm shift to get these people to expel the radicals.

In many places also, the traditional tribal leaders have been displaced by younger radicals who have adopted a militant Islamic line. Some of this is the fault of joint US/Pakistani policy during the Soviet occupation. The Taliban jihadists are largely a US creation; using Islam against the “godless communists”. When the USSR left, so did US interest, leaving a radicalized, militarized mujadheen ready primed for the likes of Osama bin Laden.

A process of reconciliation is a good start in reconstructing the society. We must also accept that there are foreigners there who cannot return home and should be allowed to peacefully assimilate into their adopted society. The key message should be that living peacefully will make the foreign troops go away but that harboring terrorists will bring down the “big stick”.

JLeslie's avatar

I did not see in the article the actual percentages of people it works for, who do not go back? Maybe I missed it? I think if it works for 50% or more it is worth it. Maybe it is worth it with an even lower success rate. I also think money should be spent to give citizens a better life through infrastructure and other ways, and we should be employing local people to build, not bringing in people from other countries.

susanc's avatar

What about dumb-ass Karzai? Every local pundit says, hedging, that “the Afghan people must have a reason to begin trusting the government”. Afghanistan has never had “a government” in the Western sense; it’s always been a collection of warlord-dominated territories, if that. It therefore seems almost hopeless. I need @stranger_in_a_strange_land‘s opinion on this.
Also, stopping the inflow of poppy-based product into the fleshpots of the world is a pretty tall order. I can attest to the extraordinary ease of growing these pretty things, and we’ve seen how disruptive it is to eradicate a nation’s prime source of income.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@susanc Afghanistan has never had a strong central government, even in the days of monarchy, the central government leader was rarely more than “Mayor of Kabul”. Probably the best solution is to accept decentralized government, with the varoius tribal groups forced to get along with each other in the urban areas; sort of Singapore-fashion, where anything that contributes to ethic tension is strongly forbidden. If you want to live in an urban area, you must leave your tribal grudges behind. About the most that could be expected of a national government might be as a kind of arbiter to work out territorial or jurisdictional disputes. The US is simply expecting more of Karzai than he (or any “national” leader can deliver.

susanc's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land: just what I think too. Thanks. How about my exegesis on the poppy, though, stranger?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Snarp – I’m not talking about hard drugs for sale at Walmart. Doctors would have to diagnose drug addiction. Hard drugs are prescription only and very inexpensive (subsidized by the state). There’s no need for crime or prostitution and paying for the drugs is easy if we just consider the reduction of sexually transmitted diseases.

mattbrowne's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land – Yes, the hard-core radicals still have to be dealt with. We can’t allow them to rebuild terrorist camps.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – I think good statistics are hard to come by.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@susanc The poppy cultivation is actually un-Islamic. Restoration of a proper and peaceful society where they can market appropriate crops will solve that.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, and consumers in developed countries must be willing to pay a good price for products (ideally with Fairtrade certifications), so the farmers in Afghanistan can make a living. Same applies to Colombian farmers of course.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@mattbrowne Right on! Fairtrade certification and middlemen who don’t rip off the farmers are essential.

Snarp's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m all for it, but in the States even giving away free needles is politically unpopular.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Zen_Again – It’s not about the brainwashed leaders. It’s about desperate unemployed young men who need money for their families. The Taliban system is a major employer and their main source for revenues is selling drugs.

Zen_Again's avatar

It’s always about the leaders.

mattbrowne's avatar

But leaders depend on supporters and recruits.

Zen_Again's avatar

@mattbrowne Your question was whether exit programs work – from what I’ve read they don’t. By definition, people who are willing to blow themselves up in order to kill random innocent civillians in the name of Allah or whatever – are all brainwashed. Because of their lifestyle, both leaders and followers are not interested in a cash outlet – it goes beyond brainwashing – it’s their ideology and lifestyle.

So from what I’ve read – this particular plan is unsuccessful. I don’t know very much about it.

:-)

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