A group of Afghan wartime commanders graduated today(a month ago) from a rehabilitation course having overcome old attitudes to women and foes, as well as developing useful peacetime skills.
To qualify for training, the commanders, some of whom had led thousands of men, had to surrender their weapons. In return, the month long course funded by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Program taught them business management, English and computers.
But perhaps the biggest transition they made was in their attitudes towards women and enemies from the past.
Abdul Khalid was a jihadi general in Balkh province. He joined the holy war leading 8 men as they hid in caves from the Soviet bombardment, but he attracted 1200 men to his side.
"At first I thought it would be impossible for women to teach us, but now I have respect for them," he said, "We didn’t know what gender was, we fought with our sisters, our women but when we go home we will behave in a good way."
Shoughla Aqdas, who taught the 20 commanders English and computer skills said, "At first we were very worried, and excited. People said they still had private weapons so at first we were very scared that they were dark minded.
"But after we taught them in class we felt comfortable. They told us that they were proud of us. We are women but they agree and respect us."
While there is a misperception that Islam encourages the denial of female equality, Abida Lewal, their human rights and gender issues teacher said she used the Koran to instil the old warriors with a sense of women's rights.
"In the first lesson I asked them if they were good Muslims, they all replied that they were," she said. Throughout the month-long course she then showed them passages from the Koran that support gender equality.
Their attitudes towards old enemies have also softened. Haji Fazel Hadi said, "We were fighting each other before. Now we are friends and we will miss each other. "
Supporters of the communist regime, and the mujahideen who fought them shared sleeping quarters and ate at the same table for a month. After the graduation ceremony they exchange laughs, bear hugs, and phone numbers. "I feel I have friends in all 34 provinces." Says Haji Fazel.
In his home province of Laghman, Haji Fazel now plans to set up a business importing cheap Chinese plastic goods. He wants Afghanistan to progress, but is realistic about his priorities. "I want to set up the business for myself, to feed my family, and hopefully help my country."
After more than two decades of war, Afghanistan needs to rebuild, and measures such as these seem like positive steps.
The head teacher hopes the country will allow these men to stay peaceful. "They were driven to fighting by the circumstances. There will be a problem again if the government and economy is not strong enough to provide jobs."