The campaign kicked off in the northern city of Kunduz on Friday. It is designed to reduce the power of warlords and make way for a new multi-ethnic army.

A pilot programme has been underway in Kunduz City, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of the capital Kabul since Monday. A senior defence official told AFP that so far 982 of a targeted 1000 soldiers had handed over their weapons to a Defence Ministry Commission, taking the first step towards demobilisation  and reintegration into civilian life.

Over the next two weeks they will be awarded medals, given clothes and a food allowance and assisted in starting a new post-military life.

But the UN-backed campaign, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, has more than a hint of farce.

Many of the men had surrendered their weapons to their own commanders two years ago and their guns have been in a locked away as part of a locally driven disarmament initiative in the quiet, rural Kinduz province.

Now they are being given the same weapon again which they will hand back after parading in front of President Karzai and other  dignitaries to officially launch the DDR plan.

Each militiaman who hands in a weapon will receive $200 in cash. And the price of buying a similar gun on the illegal weapons market? $100!