Peace Council - the high cost of doing nothing

Create: 05/16/2015 - 12:24

Four years back, former president Hamid Karzai set up the High Peace Council (HPC) to hold negotiations with the Taliban on ending the conflict in Afghanistan. But some members of the government-run body, trying to enhance their perks and privileges, acknowledge their failure to make any significant achievements so far.
Bin background interviews with the Killid Group, HPC and provincial peace committee members, parliamentarians, government officials and security commanders admitted that the panel had nothing to show for its success in terms of ending the insurgency. Observers claim the peace negotiators have only worked to protect their personal interests.
“We have only got paychecques and spent time sitting in our offices,” one member of the council remarked, seeking customary anonymity. Some HPC officials are said to have luxury cars, each worth lakhs of dollars, besides drawing as high salaries as $3,000 a month and enjoying other facilities.
Financial benefits have also been passed on to the Taliban joining the peace process, as each of them is paid 8,000 afghanis a month for at least eight months. But each surrendering group leader gets 3,000 afs a month. Over the past four years, those relinquishing the insurgency have been paid a hefty sum of 469.87 million afs.
HPC Secretary Aminuddin Muzaffari, on the other hand, is all praise for the peace body, saying they have been able to woo 9259 militants back into the social mainstream. He explains the fighters renouncing violence include 848 group leaders, turning 71931 weapons over to the authorities.
He insists the council, ever since its creation, has been doing its bit to bring peace to the country torn by militant-inked violence. The body is responsible for paving the ground and creating an enabling environment for talks between parties to the war. “As of now some 10,000 rebels have given up armed resistance because of our campaign.”
Muzaffari argues the rebels do not enjoy complete security and hence HPC’s inability to convince them into stoutly supporting the government. The Taliban are left with the complaint that they are without a permanent address -- a venue where they could talk to government representatives.
HPC composition and salaries:
A – Central Committee: In line with the HPC rules, the council’s membership is a symbolic honour involving no salary. Nonetheless, its members are paid hefty sums of money, such as messing and transport allowances, ranging from $500 to $3000 per month.
The council has one central and 33 provincial committees, besides a secretariat in Kabul. Muzaffari says the central committee has 70 members, including an 18-member executive board and a 5-member administrative board. “General members meet once every 30 days, with each drawing $500 per month.” Each member of the executive board, which meets once a week, is paid about $900 a month.
Under one head or another, the administrative board is given a lot more in terms of pay, allowances and concessions. According to information from Muzaffari, the board includes committee and secretariat heads, their deputies and two secretaries. “Each head gets $3000 a month, the deputy $2000 and the secretary $1500.”
In addition to cash payments, the HPC and its administrative board are using vehicles hired for lakhs of dollars. The council also pays security guards, each of whom is given $200 per month. Despite repeated efforts, the exact number of security guards could not be ascertained.  
B – Provincial committee: In each province, the council has a 29-member body working to promote peace. Each member of the body, which meets on a monthly basis, receives at least 6000 afs in transport and top-up card costs. At the provincial level, the secretariat has five-member staff, including the committee chairman, secretariat head and two secretaries.
According to the HPC spokesman, the committee and secretariat heads get $900 a month, with each member drawing$500. But committee chairmen in 11 provinces told Killid they were paid $1200 each. The council has set aside $2000 to pay provincial offices’ monthly rents.
Who foots the bill?
Muzaffari says HPC, having no budget allocation, is financially supported by international donors. The council directly receives cash donations, which are later deposited in the Ministry of Finance. “HPC-funded projects benefiting ex-fighters are implemented by sectorial ministries. The funds are released by the Ministry of Finance from the council’s budget.” The extent of foreign donations could not be determined, as the officials concerned declined giving specific figures.
Foreign trips:
The spokesman says the Afghanistan peace process has regional and global dimensions, necessitating HPC members’ visits to certain countries. But such trips are largely confined to neighbouring countries.
“Our members have three annual foreign visits, just because we need regional and international backing for restoration of peace…” He did not put a specific figure on the expenses incurred on such trips, but not a single penny is paid from the government exchequer.
A successful council?
Though the spokesman calls peace efforts a success, yet several Wolesi Jirga (lower house) members slam the body as an ostentatious entity. A jirga of sorts, its expenses are pretty high, they say, insisting the council has made no significant gains so far.
MP Saleh Mohammad Saleh claims the erstwhile president set up HPC to please a number of influential tribal elders. Another objective behind the council establishment by Hamid Karzai, he maintains, was to counter the influence of those figures. He charges the peace negotiators, most of them tainted by corruption, “travel in bullet-proof vehicles in Kabul and provinces.”
Another lawmaker, Sher Wali Wardak, echoes Saleh’s view. He believes the council has failed to make any achievement over the past four years of its existence. “Unsuccessful as it is, the council in its present composition will never bless the Afghans with peace.” 
Meshrano Jirga (Senate) members also take a pessimistic view of view of HPC’s performance, saying restoration of peace is beyond its capability. Second Vice-Chairman of Senate Rafi Gul Afghan remarks: “It has huge expensive, but dismal when it comes to efficiency.”
Some council officials, meanwhile, also make a clean confession of their failure. One of its members, Maulvi Shahzada Shahid, admits their achievement is zero.  He links the dismal record of the council to inadequate coordination among members and the chokehold of some circles.
Shahid cites a “class-based system within the council and flawed delegation of powers as main reasons for the HPC’s incompetence”. He agrees their spending has been useless. “This money should have been spent on wooing the militants into the reconciliation campaign.”
He adds: “We should not hide this unpalatable reality from the nation: Those on the council are more interested in advancing their personal interests. They have been unable to make achievement that we call our national pride.”
Provincial peace process:
Kunduz police chief Syed Sarwar Hussaini says: “Either jobless people or beggars have joined the process in this province. But the peace committee head, Asadullah Omarkhel disagrees and seeks credit for the surrender of 500 fighters and 200 weapons as a result of their endeavours. “Of those returning to normal life, 250 are serving as Afghan Local Police (ALP) personnel.”
Fazlur Rabi Fayyaz, who chairs the Helmand peace committee, complains nothing has been done to achieve peace in the southern province. “The committee has implemented no development project in a year…” In Helmand, 280 fighters have joined the peace process. The governor’s spokesman Omar Zwak accuses the peace negotiators of doing nothing and just availing themselves of privileges and pay.
Khost peace committee head Maulvi Hanif Shah Hussaini faults the peace strategy, suggesting: “There should be an exclusive policy for each province.” So far, only a dozen militants have joined the peace process in Khost. But Abdul Qayyum Baqizoi, the police chief, believes the process has helped improve security in the province.  
Abdul Momin Muslim, the Kapisa peace committee chairman, alleges the process has been unsuccessful due to lack of cooperation from the provincial administration. About 40 fighters have responded positively to invitations from the committee, whose activities were hailed as positive by police chief Khwaja Mohammad Faqiri.
In Herat, 1159 rebels, including 94 group leaders, from 15 districts have switched sides. They surrendered 1000 pieces of arms. Yama Amini, the provincial committee secretary, says security has subsequently improved 30 percent. “Some 500 projects costing $200,000 have been implemented for the former combatants.” Police spokesman Abdul Rauf Ahmadi is all praise for the committee’s performance.
Paktia Peace Committee head Humayun says 51 fighters have publicly joined the reconciliation drive while another 300 disgruntled people support the government secretly. They have turned 23 weapons over to the authorities. Provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel says the committee has been able to persuade 320 rebels in Balkh, 181 including 13 group leaders in Kandahar, 51 in Bamyan and 440 in Nangarhar to quit the insurgency.
The writer’s views don’t necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s policy.