The transitional government in Afghanistan has formally launched a national campaign to disarm nearly 100,000 militia fighters across the country over two years.
The United Nations is backing the campaign known as the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration plan. It is aimed at reducing the power of Afghanistan's notorious warlords. They are seen as the biggest obstacle to efforts to extend the authority of the central government beyond the capital, Kabul.
President Hamid Karzai launched the campaign in the northern city of Kunduz on Friday. U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi also attended the ceremony.
President Karzai paid tribute to nearly 1,000 fighters who have been disarmed in Kunduz over the past few days. He said they have suffered like all Afghans in more than two decades of war.
Mr. Karzai said the people of Afghanistan are lucky to have started a new jihad or holy struggle for peace, reconstruction and for providing Afghans with a better life.
The $200 million program funded by the Japanese is also aimed at developing a new multi-ethnic Afghan national army, expected to grow to 70,000 from the current ranks of 7,000.
U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the campaign to disarm Afghan factional fighters is an important step towards a peaceful Afghanistan, where a new national army or police force will be the only people authorized to carry guns.
"Anybody who stands in the way of the construction of a national army and the national police will not be in favor of peace and security for the people of Afghanistan," Mr. Brahimi said.
Most of the weapons handed in so far are old Kalashnikov assault rifles, other guns and rocket launchers. In return for weapons, Afghan militia fighters receive $200 in cash, food and clothes. Some of them will get help finding jobs in a new civilian life and some others will be reintegrated into the nascent national army or into the police force.
The Afghan defense ministry led by Mohammad Qasim Fahim is supervising the demobilization campaign. Mr. Fahim controls one of Afghanistan's largest militias. Most of Fahim's fighters have been stationed in Kabul along with their heavy weapons, including tanks. Critics say warlords in other parts of Afghanistan are unlikely to cooperate unless the defense minister himself disarms his own soldiers.
Earlier this week in Kabul, Lieutenant-General Goetz Gliemeroth, German commander of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force, ISAF, called on the fighters in the Afghan capital to remove tanks and other heavy weapons from the city.
"ISAF definitely asks for a demilitarized city of Kabul. That means the ISAF strongly supports the removal of heavy weapons from the city of Kabul out to containment sites on its outer limits," he said.
The German commander said there is no need to keep these weapons in Kabul, where more than 5,000 foreign troops are deployed to maintain security.
Afghanistan was flooded with weapons during its ten-year fight against Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and a ten-year civil war in the 1990s.
It is not clear how the national disarmament plan will work in the south and east of the country, where suspected Taleban militants stage daily guerrilla attacks on aid workers, government posts and U.S.-led coalition forces.