Commander Zalmai, better known by his nom de guerre, Toofan (Storm), lay on a soft Afghan silk carpet and traditional pillows in the garden of his formidable fortress-like house on the outskirts of Kabul. Surrounded by flowers and imported signing birds, the much-feared leader was working on a plan to get rich.
The commander, who was one of the most powerful warlords in Kabul, with more than 2,000 troops at his disposal, now leans more towards economic development than battling rival militias. "I am thinking of creating a paper factory in Kabul, we need a lot of paper for school text books and it will be good business," said Toofan.
He had been studying business when he left university to fight to remove the Soviets more than 20 years ago. He was also involved in the civil war during the 1990s and at one time controlled much of the suburbs south of the capital. The 50-year-old also played a role in ousting the Taliban as one of the leading Northern Alliance commanders.
Toofan is one of 20 Afghan militia commanders who have been recognised by the UN-backed Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme for effectively disbanding their militias and turning over a new leaf.
"All of my soldiers have been disarmed, so now I have no armed men except my bodyguards," he said, adding that now he needed professionals to help him set up a factory. "Not all of the commanders are bad guys, we are very elegant and will prove our talent in the rehabilitation of Afghanistan as well."
The multi million-dollar Afghanistan New Beginning Programme (ANBP), the official name for the DDR process, is designed to disarmed more than 50,000 former fighters. So far, 22,000 members of Afghanistan's dozens of militia forces have returned to civilian life since the process begun in October 2003.
As part of the accelerated DDR plan, the UN and Ministry of Defence (MoD) designed a new scheme offering commanders like Toofan a financial redundancy package in return for the disarmament and demobilisation of their units.
Many commanders had stalled the DDR process earlier this year – because before the incentive scheme, only their soldiers had benefited from the programme.
Under the new scheme, commanders can receive up to US $500 per month over two years. Japan, which is already supporting a large part of the DDR, is funding this new $ 2.5 million UN initiative. Under the programme, the military leaders can also opt for a one-off lump sum payment to be used to start a business.
Toofan is aware that his dream paper factory will cost more than the $12,000, but heading a militia appears to have had its financial rewards. "I will sell my agricultural fields and even house or cars and the remainder I hope that I can obtain through loans with the help of the United Nations," he said, while counting several land cruisers and pick-up trucks parked in his compound, very similar to those used by international NGOs and the UN.
According to ANBP, almost half of all militia troops in Afghanistan have been disarmed while another 30,000 are expected to put down their weapons permanently disbanded by next year.
Toofan said he was trying to make money with his new venture but was also in the job creation business, having to look after hundreds of his cronies who have no source of income after his army was decommissioned. "They [ex-soldiers] were loyal to me and fought with me for years, I have to find them jobs, maybe through my factory," he maintained.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions