Do Exit Programs for Islamists Actually Work?

Third, cultural differences matter. In Iraq, for example, local tribes are asked to vouch for insurgents' good behaviour before they are released back into the community. Singapore makes it compulsory for the families of suspected terrorists to be involved throughout the process of re-education and re-integration. Context is important, therefore, which means that even the best program will have to be adapted to local custom and traditions.

Fourth, many programs are less ambitious than they seem. The Saudi program, for example, excludes people who have "blood on their hands." For the Indonesians, giving up violence is not the outcome but a pre-condition for joining up. They all recognise that exit programs can only ever support and consolidate a process that's already under way. No one can be made to exit against their will.

No Substitute

Fifth, exit programs work best when the insurgents are losing. In Egypt, the members of the Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad joined exit programs in their hundreds -- but only after their leaderships were arrested and it had become obvious that their campaigns were going nowhere. Even in Iraq, the exit program started working properly only in 2007, when the Sunni insurgency was coming to an end and al-Qaida was virtually defeated.

It is this last point which represents the greatest obstacle for any exit program in Afghanistan. Why would any Taliban wish to "exit" when his side seems to be winning?

No doubt, exit programs can be a great tool for supporting the process of conflict resolution. But they are no substitute for it. If the Taliban continue to gain ground, not even the best funded and most sophisticated exit program will make any difference.

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