Rights & Freedoms

Afghan Reactions to the High Peace Council


The establishment of the High Peace Council (HPC) by President Hamed Karzai on 18 September has created a lot of attention. Finally, the competition about who will chair the body has been decided in favour of 1992-96 Interim President Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani. Also, the still missing members have been appointed which let the HPC become a 70-member body: Wazhma Frogh and Sheela Samimi from the Afghanistan Women’s Network, two of the few civil society members(*).

At the HPC’s inaugural session on 7 October, President Hamed Karzai said that the government will assist the council whenever necessary but that it would operate independently. ‘The President stated that the HPC is an independent body the legitimacy of which comes from the [June 2010] Peace Jirga and that the government of Afghanistan will act as a partner [hamkar], supporting it whenever need arises’ (see the Dari statement here; the English version does not contain this sentence).

HPC member Attaullah Ludin, an outgoing MP, interpreted this as a signal that Karzai was backing off from earlier raised preconditions for talks (see related news item here). Amongst those preconditions put before the insurgents are their recognition of the current constitution, to break all links with al-Qaida and to lay down arms. For the moment, there is no indication that this indeed is the intention of the Kabul government – and it would contradict public demands reiterated by the US and other members of the international community.

On 12 October, the President’s spokesman Wahid Omar said that it is too early to comment about the ability of the HPC and emphasised on a need for continuation of fight against al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He added that in case the council cannot come up with a result, the Afghan government will think of other approaches: ‘We should back the council and see how it works. If it’s proved that the council is not working, the government will take another step, but if it proves effective, a negative prejudgement could be harmful to the process’.

Meanwhile, the Afghan media, civil society organisations and MPs have also started to reacting publicly to the council’s formation. They discuss general shortcoming – as its warlord-dominated composition – and comment on the competition for its chairmanship between two former interim presidents and mujahedin leaders.

In a statement published on 4 October, ten civil society organisations(**) – many of them networks themselves – emphasize that the ‘national interest, justice and women’s rights […] should be practically [included] in decision making’ about reconciliation. The organizations also raise their ‘serious concern […] pertaining the proposed government strategy for peace and reintegration [and] regarding the announced list of the council member[s]’. The organizations criticize that ‘[a] number of this council[‘s] member[s] ha[ve] better experience in war rather than peace which will adversely affect the trust of Afghans and [the] international community in this process.’ Furthermore, ‘the [m]ajority of the proposed council members are already part of other governmental commissions, [and] such a composition will not only slow down the progress of the peace process but will ultimately result [in] its failure’.

The ten organizations make a series of proposals ‘for the reform and increase[e of] the effectiveness of the peace process’, amongst them to prioritise ‘justice and transitional justice’; an analysis and open recognition of the causes of war and conflict; transparency about the nature of the government’s and international community’s reconciliation plans; to replace HPC members ‘who are accused of human rights violation[s] and [who are] suspects of war crimes […] with experts and those with greater experience in conflict resolution, mediation and reconciliation’ and that civil society organizations should be ‘involved in all decision making’. They further warn against a new misuse of the council as happened with its predecessor, the PTS (see thefull text here).

The English-language Kabul Weekly comments that ‘peace cannot be possible without all the players at the table, including their domestic, regional and other sponsors’. And it has ‘a couple [of] critical questions’ like: ‘Who will guarantee that these Taliban members will cut their ties with Al Qaeda, and is the Afghan public prepared to extend benefits to them?’ And further: ‘Assuming that the High Peace Council is able to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban without sacrificing essential values like freedom of speech, women’s rights and other rights, then that will be a peace that everyone will welcome. After the three decades of war, the public will choose peace over other values because war is the greater evil. Despite deep skepticism, the Afghan public wants the council to succeed. […] But if the president’s cronies manipulate the negotiations to consolidate their tribal power or to further their racist agendas, then peace will fail. […] Afghanistan’s international supporters must keep this fact in mind.’

Kabul daily Hasht-e Sobh wrote on 11 September under the headline ‘Rabbani – peace messenger or obstacle in the way of peace’ that the appointment of Rabbani as a chairman represents an attempt ‘to move Rabbani away from the [Dr Abdullah-led opposition] Taghir wa Omid(Change and Hope) party’ by giving him governmental positions; it points to the fact that Rabbani’s son already had just been appointed an ambassador (apparently to Turkey – but this has not been officially confirmed yet).

In a separate article on the same day, the newspaper quotes civil society activist (and parliamentary candidate) Muhammad Sa’id Niazi that Rabbani’s appointment could ‘further strengthen the Taleban rejection of all attempts of the government to start talks. He called it ‘not a step towards reintegrating the opposition [because many of] those participating in the HPC were involved in the war against the Taleban’.

In its following issues, the newspaper quotes a number of current MPs support these assessments, amongst them the second deputy speaker of the Wolesi Jirga Amanullah Paiman, its former deputy speaker Fauzia Kufi and liberal MP Kabir Ranjbar. Kufi was quoted as saying: ‘I don’t think that HPC will be able to bring peace to Afghanistan.’ Ranjbar believes that the HPC would ‘only spend money from government’s budget, and the achievement won’t be what we expect’.

Finally, Kabul Weekly’s Idrees Daniel hits hard in his much-read column ‘Things left unsaid’. He informs his readers that:

‘Senate leader Sibghatullah Mujaddedi said that former president Burhanuddin Rabbani was not qualified to lead the High Peace Council’. (Mujaddedi who still leads the still not dissolved PTS programme was the second contender for the HPC chair.) ‘I dislike both men equally, so this article is not a defense of Rabbani, but Mujaddedi’s statement is worth scrutinizing.’

Daniel continues:

‘Mujaddedi criticized Rabbani’s selection, saying that someone with blood on his hands cannot lead a peace council. […] I assume that Mujaddedi is referring to Rabbani’s role in the civil war after 1992. […] Afghans have not forgotten that it was this council’s rockets that rained down daily on Kabul, inflicting massive causalities. […] If Rabbani’s hands have blood on them, so do Mujaddedi’s. Many of the mujahideen leaders were not on the frontlines, or anywhere on the battlefield, but they are accountable for the war dead.’

‘In the last three decades a handful of people, who are now very old, have taken it upon themselves to decide the fate of the Afghan nation. They have many benefits as “elder leaders” and when they lose their benefits or positions they work single-mindedly to recovering them. I don’t want to name any names, but people know who these folks are. For some reason when there is a high-profile position they assume that they deserve the position and they must acquire the position. Don’t they know that there are up to 30 million Afghans who have a right to determine the direction of their future too? Do the assume that they are the wisest people around?
It’s true that as jihadi leaders they helped to end the occupation, but they let people down and they have not proven that they can do a better job today. They have wealth, power and their reputations. But do we have to put up with them forever? […] The public is culpable too. If they stopped being deferential to them, they would lose their support and status. Once they no longer have status, their opinions and decisions are unimportant. Let’s get rid of these selfish and egotistical people who think of themselves as leaders’
 .

(see the full column here).

(*) The updated list was published in Hewad, 17 Mizan 1389 (9 October 2010), p.1.

(**) Afghanistan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), Agency Coordination Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Afghan NGO’s Coordination Bureau (ANCB), Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), Transitional Justice Coordination Group, All Afghan Women Union (AWU), Training Human Rights Association (THRA), Civil Society Development Center (CSDC) and Afghan Organisation for Human Rights & Environment Protection (AOHREP).

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Thematic Category: Rights & Freedoms, War & Peace