One village’s story of disarmament

20 May 2009

One village’s story of disarmament

KABUL - Travelling from Jalalabad to Torkham on the border with Pakistan, you pass the district of Mohmand Dara.

In the past this district of the eastern province of Nangarhar was known for poppy cultivation and the number of illegal armed groups.

But today the image is one of peace and security after the armed groups handed their weapons over to DIAG – the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups – a United Nations and Government of Afghanistan programme.

At the Emal Baba Higher Secondary School 2,000 students are taught by 20 teachers in ten classrooms; two other smaller rooms are used by the teachers for administration. However most of the students take their classes on the ground under the sun and without chairs or desks.

But on the northern side of the school construction is now underway for a new building. The work is funded by the United Nations Development Programme and Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme which operates DIAG.

“The students are very happy that all the former jihadi commanders who took part in a successful jihad against the enemies of the country realized the importance of education for their children and now they believe education is a milestone for development,” said Farooq, a 17 year old tenth class student.

“Two years ago many students were not able to attend classes and nobody was ready to send his children to school. But today you can see thousands of male and female students attending their classes in the different schools of Mohmand Dara, without fear of any armed people,” added Farooq.

Muhammad Yaseen, a shopkeeper in Mohmand Dara, remembers the time when illegal armed groups roamed the streets and people would stay in their shops day and night, afraid of looting. Gunmen would come to the shops and take everything forcefully without paying.

”Most of the people of this district were busy in poppy cultivation. But when the former jihadi commanders disbanded their groups and handed over their weapons to DIAG they observed a lot of changes in the life of the people. Parents were also afraid to allow their children to go to school as they could see armed people every where. But the situation has changed and today children are able to come out for learning without fear of armed people,” added Mr Yaseen.

Malik Ameer Khan, one former jihadi commander, who has now handed over his weapons and is working as a farmer recalls his fighting years: “I started my jihad against Russian troops when I was 25 years old. I was very happy fighting and proudly kept weapons for the defence of our country. I was the commander of ten mujahideen.

“In those days fighting for the freedom of the country was the holy jihad. Now struggling for bringing a peaceful environment is also a jihad,” said Malik Ameer.

For Salma, a 30 year old mother of three children and a returnee from Pakistan, the implementation of DIAG in her district is welcome. One of her main concerns has been the lack of education for her two daughters and the fear of armed groups.

“I was working in the poppy fields with my husband and would always be thinking about my husband and daughters’ future. I would like to educate my daughters and I was afraid to see the young boys and girls working in the poppy fields,” said Salma.

Now with the school project she is able to send her daughters to school and they in turn don’t have to be afraid of armed men on the streets.

DIAG is part of Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme which was established in 2003 to assist the Government of Afghanistan with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of soldiers and former fighters. Today ANBP concentrates on the destruction of anti-personnel mines and stockpiled ammunition and the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups.

By Kamran Saeed Totakhel, ANBP

Website: Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme

Website: United Nations Development Programme, Afghanistan