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US set to pay Taliban members to switch sides

world Updated: Oct 29, 2009 19:41 IST

IANS
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US President Barack Obama has signed a $680 billion defence appropriations bill with one provision giving commanders the ability to pay Taliban members to switch sides, but some experts feel the programme may buy only temporary loyalty.

The payments to Taliban would be made under a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander's Emergency Response Programme (CERP), which is now receiving $1.3 billion in the bill pay for military operations in the 2010 fiscal year, signed by Obama on Wednesday.

CERP funding is also intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders' discretion.

The buyout idea, according to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a programme used to neutralise the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.

"Afghan leaders and our military say that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal," Levin said in a Senate floor speech Sep 11.

"They believe an effort to attract these fighters to the government's side could succeed, if they are offered security for themselves and their families, and if there is no penalty for previous activity against us."

The top commander in Afghanistan has backed the plan for the Taliban. "Most of the fighters we see in Afghanistan are Afghans, some with (a) foreign cadre with them," said Gen Stanley McChrystal in a July 28 Los Angeles Times interview.

Most are not ideologically or even politically motivated, he said in the interview.

"Most are operating for pay; some are under a commanders charismatic leadership; some are frustrated with local leaders."

But Nicholas Schmidle, an expert on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for the non-partisan New America Foundation, cited by CNN said that while the plan has a "reasonable chance for some success", the old Afghan saying - "You can rent an Afghan, but you can't buy him" - will eventually be borne out.

"So long as the Americans are keenly aware of this, you're buying a very, very, very temporary allegiance," he said. "If that's the foundation for moving forward, it's a shaky foundation."

CNN security analyst Peter Bergen said the idea of paying off Taliban members to quit is nothing new. "There's been an amnesty programme for low-level Taliban in place for many years now and thousands of people have taken advantage of it," he said.