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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 30 May 2005

AFGHANISTAN: Life one year after disarmament

JANAT BAGH , 30 May 2005 (IRIN) - Once a combatant, 34-year-old Abdul Ghafour wakes each day to begin his new life as the sole carpenter in the tiny village of Janat Bagh. The father-of-five, once a trained RPG [rocket propelled grenade] launcher in the former 54th military division, now helps to reconstruct his own village in northeastern Kunduz province's Khanabad district.

Ghafour's was one of the very first militias to be decommissioned through the UN-backed disarmament demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme in November 2003.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are supporting Kabul's efforts to honourably decommission the Afghan Military Forces (AMF). This is being achieved through the Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), the official name of the DDR scheme. Today it is considered a major step towards restoring national security and creating an enabling environment for further security sector reform.

After surrendering his gun, Ghafour chose to take up carpentry in his efforts to rebuilt his life and reintegrate into society, while at the same time learning how to read. In addition to having a proper trade, he is also one of the few people who can read and write in Janat Bagh where most of the adults are former combatants and youngsters who missed school due to years of displacement.

"The DDR has healed the wounds of two decades of war. Now I am an important person in the village. I earn up to 5,000 Afghanis [US$100] and can read sign boards of pharmacies' and doctors'," Ghafour explained. "Nowadays I am often hired a month in advance as this is the season of construction here," he said proudly.

Ghafour described his two decades of life in the military as miserable and said the DDR was a turning point in his life.

"Twenty years of fighting and being with arms ruined my life. Often I was away from home with no hope of return. My job was destruction and disturbance," he said, as he showed an earlier photo of himself standing atop a ruined power station with an RPG in his hands near Janat Bagh, surrounded by other armed men.

"I am the only person in the photo to have survived. Many in our village were killed during fighting against invading Soviet troops and also during the war against Taliban," he said.

Over the past two decades of war, Khanabad had been on the front line in every regime's fighting and Janat Bagh, a strategic battle ground. The number of civilians killed or victimised in the area was high, he recalled.

But as Ghafour's carpentry expertise improves, so too does his standing as local residents in the village begin sending their children to learn carpentry from the ex-combatant.

"Joining school or literacy course is a pre-condition for anyone who wants to learn carpentry in my tiny shop," he said.

Despite Ghafour's new-found satisfaction with civilian life, however, he was worried as his former commander and many other warlords in Kunduz are still powerful people.

"They can at any time re-arm people. They have hundreds of thousands of arms stocked. They are still respected by the government and they have influence in civil and military affairs," he warned.

Yet for Ghafour, his greatest challenge now is how to reconcile his past with a future of further promise.

"Now I try to attend all the local ceremonies, wedding parties and public gatherings, just to show people that I am not the Ghafour of yesterday. I am no more a dangerous militiaman, but a social and professional member of the community," he said smiling.

Ghafour is just one of the 55,000 militiamen that have been decommissioned to date. According to the ANBP, 45,400 of the disarmed ex-militiamen have been reintegrated, the vast majority working in agriculture and vocational training, while others have chosen to be mechanics and de-miners.

The ANBP hopes to demobilise another 5,000 ex-combatants before the disarmament of the Afghan militia forces ends.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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