When Gen. David Petraeus testified before Congress recently, the top American commander in Afghanistan gave a generally upbeat assessment — but he acknowledged that military successes won't win the war.
Afghan-led reintegration "of reconcilable insurgents must also be an important element of the strategy — and it now is," he told lawmakers on March 15.
Petraeus said some 700 former Taliban have already reconciled with the government.
Within the past month, two insurgent commanders have laid down their arms in Kandahar, the southern Afghan city that's known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
One of them, Haji Toor Jan, is a lean, weathered man who looks older than his 26 years. He wears the loosely wrapped turban and long beard that's characteristic of Pashtun men in the farm districts around Kandahar.
He says his job was coordinating homemade bomb attacks and setting up ambushes to kill Afghan and foreign soldiers. Toor Jan joined the insurgency when he was about 16, survived many fights and rose in the ranks.
He quit the Taliban and joined the Afghan government's reintegration program about a month ago, along with about 30 of his men.
He first began fighting for religious reasons because Taliban imams told him that he was taking part in jihad, or holy war, he says. But he became disillusioned when his superiors ordered him to attack Afghan civilians, who were fellow Muslims.
Malawi Azizullah says he joined the Taliban in the name of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of honor that says humiliations must be avenged. He says he had to fight back when he felt that coalition forces dishonored people by searching houses in Panjwai, where he ran a big madrassa, a religious school.
As he puts it, "they broke into our houses and pulled off the scarves of the women."
Azizullah is also in his 20s, wearing traditional black eyeliner that makes a striking contrast with his long black beard.
He says he became disillusioned when he learned that elements of Pakistan's security agency, the ISI, were supporting the Taliban with the goal of keeping Afghanistan weak and unstable.
Though Azizullah and Toor Jan have pledged not to fight anymore, neither man is interested in reconciling with Americans.
Azizullah says he still hopes all foreigners will leave the country and stay away. He recently joined the reintegration program, bringing 10 men with him. He was welcomed back into the community in a ceremony in which the provincial governor wrapped his head in a new white turban.
Local elders said they were a bit disappointed that Azizullah brought only 10 men with him, since he is considered a significant commander who controls at least 200 fighters.
But Azizullah says he expects another 10 men will join him soon — when they see that the government can be trusted — and the rest will follow after that.
Both Azizullah and Toor Jan say they have been promised protection from their former comrades in the Taliban as well as jobs and shelter for their men. But they also say that money and jobs aren't what motivated them.
"Absolutely not," says Tooryalai Wesa, Kandahar's provincial governor. "We are not reconciling with people if they are expecting blank checks by the end of the month or by the end of the week. That's not reconciliation."
He says the government will keep its promises to Taliban who reintegrate but that the program is not aimed at buying loyalty.
Toor Jan says it's also a matter of restoring a place that's been destroyed by decades of fighting.
He's from the Arghandab Valley, one of areas that was the scene of some of the hardest fighting during last year's campaign.
Years ago, he says, the Arghandab was so beautiful that Muslim travelers likened it to paradise on earth. Now, many of its orchards and vineyards have been destroyed.
He says he'd like to be involved in replanting them. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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