Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Afghanistan launches demobilizing campaign


President Hamid Karzai yesterday formally launched a national campaign to demobilize 100,000 soldiers with a call to disbanded fighters to take up a new jihad for reconstruction.

"Today we are lucky to start a jihad [holy struggle] for peace, a jihad for reconstruction, a jihad for disarmament," Karzai said before a heavily guarded disbandment parade by disarmed soldiers in a village square in northeast city of Kunduz.

Nearly 1,000 soldiers, former fighters against Soviet troops and the Taliban, have handed in their guns in the past five days here, in the pilot phase of a three-year campaign that will go nationwide.

As the disarmed fighters marched by Karzai under a midday sun, they raised their fists with cries of Allah-o Akbar. Some units were uniformed, others were in traditional turban and tunics over trousers.

Special UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Vice President Karim Khalili, Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and regional army commander General Mohammad Daud presided over the ceremony.

Brahimi paid tribute to the demobilizing troop as fighters "who were in the forefront of the struggle for the liberation of Afghanistan."

"They participated in the jihad to liberate their country from foreign occupation," he said "there is another jihad waiting ... that jihad is for the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

The UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program is aimed at reducing the power of warlords and making way for a new multi-ethnic national army.

Over the next fortnight the soldiers will be given medals, food, clothing and severance pay.

Some will be retrained and helped to find employment in a new civilian life and some others will be reintegrated into the nascent Afghan National Army or into the police force.

Afghanistan's army is expected to grow to 70,000 men from the current ranks of 7000.

The campaign is designed to rid war-weary Afghanistan of factionalized armed fighters loyal to rival warlords or commanders, and make way for one cohesive national army with allegiance to the central government.

"DDR's not about disarming people so much as about breaking up power structures," senior advisor Noel Cossins said.

"We're offering those who are captured within those power structures an alternative way of making a living, other than leaning on people or hanging around garrisons wondering what next to do."

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