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On initial consideration, the idea of reintegration might seem peripheral to achieving the objectives of a counterinsurgency campaign, and that demanding surrender should be the order of the day, not seeking mutual forgiveness. However, nothing could be further from reality. In countering an insurgency the motives of each fighter and supporter dictate their adversarial actions, and the potential size of the insurgency is theoretically limited only by the population of the country itself. On deeper reflection then, the salience of reintegration rapidly emerges as central to any successful strategy to conclude an insurgency.
An enduring peace among antagonists in an insurgency and a lasting recourse to the sovereignty of the in-power government can only be properly expressed in terms that encompass the reintegration of the host society. In its most holistic form, reintegration encompasses not only fighters who have taken up violent resort to obtain their own ends, but also fragments and factions in society that are disenfranchised, ostracised or otherwise excluded from participating in a country’s social-political construct between its government and the people.
Lasting reintegration is much harder to foster and generate than simply announcing a policy. Personal allegiances, misgivings, fear, and human and institutional frailty all seem arrayed against even attempting reintegration, yet is a valid and indeed fundamental aim in counterinsurgency that must be grasped, like a nettle, with confidence and vigour. Reintegration not only has a role for all actors – police, civil and military – but indeed demands of them a common purpose, and a truly concerted effort to attain it. This paper draws on six months of field work in southern Afghanistan grappling with these challenges.