Crescent Kashmir

Afghan police team welcoming back Taliban fighters

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PANJWAI (Afghanistan): After more than a decade fighting for the Taliban and being hounded by Afghan and US forces, Haji Lala thought there was little chance of ever returning home.

Once a commander and senior district official for the militant group, he says he was captured and detained for two and a half years.

When he was released, the 58-year-old vowed to put his militant years behind him and look for a way to go back home.

It was with the unlikely support of a police chief and the encouragement of a fellow former Taliban militant that he was given the opportunity to return home to the southern province of Kandahar.

“I thought maybe… they would hand me over to the US troops,” said Lala, describing his initial trepidation at trusting a police officer.

Before being captured, US forces he had battled against had raided his house nearly 15 times.

“After I returned, friends and villagers visited me for nearly 10 days, as if there was a wedding party,” he said.

“I have a good reputation now in the village and the police are also not troubling me. I feel absolutely safe.” Haji Lala’s return early this year was made possible because of the protection of the former police chief of Panjwai district, Sultan Mohammad Hakimi.

Despite the bloodshed he has witnessed throughout his career, Hakimi has made it a personal mission to give ex-Taliban fighters, commanders and officials the chance to reintegrate into village life.

“We invited the former fighters to return, assuring them that nobody would harass them,” said Hakimi.

“Those whose farms were destroyed, we rebuilt them; those who had no water, we dug wells for them.”

Even in retirement, Hakimi has continued an effort first launched by former Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq, a fierce opponent of the militants who was assassinated in 2018.

Raziq’s brother Tadin Khan Achakzai has since joined the effort after taking over as police chief of the province. “We will continue to help them in the future, they are our brothers too,” said Achakzai.

“If we have the right to live, so do the Taliban — but to live in peace… not to carry out suicide attacks and kill people.”

For Hakimi, it is a way of contributing to a reconciliation process and also of “weakening the leadership” of the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2020

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