Jirgas have traditionally been get-togethers for the old in Afghanistan, but in early July 2012 (1), some 1,700 young people gathered for a multi-day ‘National Youth Peace Jirga’. At a time when the official peace efforts of the US and Afghan governments seem to have halted, notwithstanding the recent ‘academic’ meetings in Paris and Kyoto (2), members of the youth jirga and of an ulama peace initiative (which will feature in a coming blog) told AAN they believe unofficial, non-governmental initiatives can increase pressure on all parties to the conflict to do more for peace. They also said that ‘civil society’ actors can try to use alternative channels to engage in a peace dialogue with the armed opposition. However, as AAN’s S. Reza Kazemi explores, the jirga ended up, not just with a split, but also in controversy – over funding and over the role of the government and of Hezb-e Islami in it.
The recently held Jirga-ye Melli-ye Solh-e Jawanan-e Afghanistan or National Youth Peace Jirga of Afghanistan was, according to its organisers, ‘a completely Afghan movement arising from the country’s youth who think sympathetically about the future of the country and who have made a determination to save their country and their people from disaster and misery’ (read reports from Afghan websites here, here and here). The ‘youth’ are a huge segment of Afghanistan’s demographics – the under 25 year-olds constitute around 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s over 30 million population, according to the UN. The participants from 106 organisations included university students, journalists, sports people and ‘elite youth’, including some senior (although still young) civil servants or government advisors. 40 per cent of the participants were reportedly girls.
A youth secretariat had worked for around eight months preparing for the jirga and presented a five-point agenda for its 20 working groups to debate:
(1) The reconciliation process and the development of an ‘alternative’ peace strategy;
(2) The future of the US military presence in Afghanistan;
(3) Anti-corruption and the role of Afghan youth in it;
(4) Unemployment and its effects on youth in an insecure environment; and
(5) Educational problems affecting the youth.
(For reporting on this in Afghan media, see here).
The National Youth Peace Jirga arguably came at a very appropriate time, given the upcoming departure of international forces and the atmosphere of spreading unease in the population which means, for example, that more and more people are leaving the country, many of them young. Several young people told AAN their generational group would likely lose the most if there is a return to civil war in Afghanistan post-2014. This in itself would seem to justify their increased involvement in public affairs, particularly in peace and reconciliation.
President Karzai has time and again publicly and vociferously urged Afghan university students, a key group among the country’s youth, to stay away from politics (probably because of the students’ role in Afghanistan’s upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s), so it was somewhat surprising that he received and addressed the jirga and, at least tacitly, supported their aims. This initiative was, after all, mostly run by university students, and having a higher education was one of the requirements for selecting the participants. But President Karzai also reiterated his position that the Afghan youth should focus on their education and the development of their country (for reporting on this, see here and here).
The jirga had an impressive guest list, in the words of a UN report about it, ‘150 guests from Government institutions, parliament, political parties and Afghan civil society’. From the government side, in addition to Karzai, Salahuddin Rabbani, chair of the High Peace Council and son of the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, participated; Muhammad Karim Khalili, the second vice-president, sent a message. Abdullah Abdullah, leader of the opposition Ehtelaf-e Melli, or National Coalition, was also present.
Rabbani told the delegates the armed opposition still saw the benefits of war and that women’s rights should not be sacrificed for peace; Khalili’s message said that change in the mind of the armed opposition was the prerequisite for peace and that constitutional values and post-2001 achievements must not be sacrificed in the peace process. Abdullah did not (or was not allowed to – it is not clear which) speak in the jirga, probably to prevent him criticizing the Afghan government and to reduce the risk of inflaming still further what were rising ethnic tensions in the meeting.
The organisers had also invited what they called ‘young Taleban members’ as well as Hekmatyar’s daughter, Maryam, and son, Firuz, to attend, but they declined on security grounds. Muhammad Sangar Amirzada, the head of the jirga, told AAN that, additionally, ‘reconciled’ Taleban, such as Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkel, former Taleban minister of foreign affairs, and Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef, their ambassador to Pakistan, declined to come for unknown reasons, but said they would have come if the jirga had been held outside Afghanistan. Amirzada, who used to work in the president’s office, gave no further details.
Despite its long preparation time and extensive deliberations, the National Youth Peace Jirga, however, proved to be controversial from the beginning, particularly over whether it was independent, financially and politically. The dispute was so damaging that it eventually led to a split, with members taking political positions primarily on ethnic grounds.
Problems may have originated in differences between the various groups who jointly organised the jirga. They included the formerly UN-supported Afghanistan Youth Parliament, the Ministry of Justice-registered social organisations Markaz-e Melli-ye Hamahangi-ye Jawanan-e Afghanistan(National Coordination Centre of the Youth of Afghanistan), many of whose leading members have been or are working in the Afghan government, andEttehadia-ye Melli-ye Jawanan-e Afghanistan (National Union of the Youth of Afghanistan), formerly a governmental institution, which is also registered in the Ministry of Economy.
The first contention was over the independence of the jirga. The head of the Afghanistan Youth Parliament and member of the jirga secretariat, Aziz-ul-Rahman Tayeb, told AAN that the jirga had been ‘hijacked’ from the start, its management and resolution ‘engineered’, and the jirga politically influenced by Omar Daudzai, the former presidential chief of staff and currently Afghan ambassador to Pakistan. He said the secretariat had accepted financial assistance from Daudzai with the condition that he should not interfere in the decision-making of the secretariat and jirga, but some of his people had ‘infiltrated’ the secretariat and jirga, intending to use the gathering to support his bid for the next presidential elections.
Amirzada, who as well as being the head of the jirga, is also a member of the National Coordination Center of the Youth of Afghanistan, rejected the accusations and said the jirga had been independent financially and politically, because it was funded by young Afghan businesspeople (for example, from Afghan United Bank and Safi Landmark Hotel and Suites). He said it did not belong to or support any political leaning. In the list of donors read out by Amirzada to AAN, Daudzai’s name did not appear. He said the donors paid $26,300 to finance the jirga and that the secretariat had not yet fully paid its debts to cover the costs of the event. He also pointed to the fact that nothing was said in the jirga or written in the resolution that supported the candidacy of anyone in the presidential elections.
The alleged influence of Hezb-e Islami – not just reconciled party members, but the fighting wing – in the jirga was the second divisive issue. Tayeb said that, prior to opening the jirga, CDs arrived in the Loya Jirga tent (which the Afghan government had provided for the youth to hold their gathering free of charge), which contained a message from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. According to Tayeb, Hekmatyar told the youth that jihad-e mosalahana, or armed jihad, was the only way to get Afghanistan out of its existing ‘quagmire’; he went on to say that the current administration was a puppet government run by nukaran-e salibi, or servants of the crusade, and nukaran-e dallar, or servants of the dollar. The support of many of the jirga’s participants for Hezb came as a surprise to Tayeb and his like-minded group as they had previously been unaware about what they called jeryanha-ye fekri, or political currents, among the youth who had applied to participate.
However, Zmarai Baher, the head of the secretariat and a former staff member of the Independent Directorate for Local Governance, in an interview with AAN, did not mention Hekmatyar’s call for jehad, but said Hekmatyar had only strongly criticized international military forces, saying their presence had negative implications for the attitudes of the youth. He said he also encouraged the youth to get higher education and perform their responsibilities. Baher said the message was not shown publically because of its contents and because it arrived late. Unfortunately, AAN has not been able to see this controversial message.
There was a third source of friction between the two camps over the jirga’s resolution (find the document’s main points at the end of the blog in footnote 3, the original is not yet available on the internet). Tayeb, who was also the head of the resolution committee, and his group had not wanted to include the following points: (1) support for ‘unconditional peace’ in Afghanistan, (2) raising of the Durand Line and Helmand River issues in the resolution, and (3) support for temporary US military presence in Afghanistan. Instead, they had wanted a ‘dignified peace that preserves Afghanistan’s democratic achievements in the past decade’, nothing on the Durand Line or Helmand River (as these issues are bound to provoke Pakistan and Iran), and calls for an open-ended US military presence on the grounds that Afghanistan does not have the capability to defend itself, particularly from external threats.
Amirzada countered this by saying that the adopted resolution itself provided answers to Tayeb’s unhappiness. It talks about peace as ‘an Islamic affair’ and ‘an inter-Afghan process’, in which the ‘reasonable conditions of the parties involved in the peace issue should be considered’; urges the US as Afghanistan’s ‘biggest strategic ally’ to ‘resolve’ the issues of the Durand Line border with Pakistan and division of the water of the Helmand River with Iran; and expresses the jirga’s ‘full disagreement’ with a permanent US military presence, but supports the ‘decisions of the government and people of Afghanistan with regard to a short-term US military presence in the country’.
The split and dispute in the jirga went so deep that it leaked out to the media. Tayeb and colleagues (well over 50 per cent of the jirga’s membership, he claimed) decided to end their support for the jirga. They were then barred from attending the last day and meeting with the President. Amirzada and Baher said the breakaway group had included only 20 to 30 participants, who wanted to ‘disrupt’ the orderly convention of the jirga, but failed in what they called their ‘malicious’ attempt. They accused Tayeb et al of having been politically ‘manipulated’ by some politicians (mentioning Ahmad Zia Massud and Muhammad Mohaqqiq, respectively leader and member of Jabha-ye Melli, or National Front). The group was prevented from attending the jirga’s last session and meeting the President, they said, because ‘up to 30 people’ should not be allowed to ‘insult’ 1,670 people. Baher said around 1,200 youth met Hamed Karzai in the presidential palace and released the resolution of the jirga. (Read an Afghan media report on the disputes in the jirga here.)
The fact of the intra-jirga split, even though there is controversy over exactly what happened, has consequences, of course, for the integrity of this youth peace initiative. Both camps say they will struggle on. Fahim Majruhi, head of the culture committee of the jirga’s secretariat and an Amirzada ally, told me the jirga would continue its peace efforts both inside and outside the country. He added that, internally, the jirga members would be acting as sofara-ye solh (ambassadors of peace), implementing the resolution of the jirga and promoting peace in towns and villages across the country; externally, a member of the jirga would address the UN at its New York headquarters and convey the message of Afghanistan’s youth for peace and reconciliation. For his part, Tayeb said he and his group would continue to fight for what they ‘believed and expressed’.
What is clear, however, is that the National Youth Peace Jirga has now become at best a weakened initiative and at worst a disaster. It also indicates that it cannot be expected that Afghanistan’s youth comes up with a unified opinion on major political matters that concern the country. As any social, political or other segment of Afghan society, it is far too differentiated, and also subjected to attempt of political instrumentalisation or manipulation.
(1) There is not even an agreed date for the jirga. According to some of the participating youth, the jirga was convened from 2 to 4 July 2012; according to the resolution, it was held on 2, 3, and 5 July.
(2) On 20 June 2012, representatives of the Afghan political and armed opposition held a first-of-its-kind meeting in Paris, France, and agreed to initiate and continue a dialogue on Afghanistan’s future, particularly on issues related to reconciliation and peace. Several European and Afghan government officials also apparently attended the gathering. Some of the participants included Ghairat Bahir, political affairs officer of Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami (Islamic Party), Muhammad Mohaqqeq, leader of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-e Mardom-e Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan), Yunus Qanuni, former parliament speaker, Ahmad Zia Massud, former first vice-president, Ali Ahmad Jalali, former minister of interior, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taleban’s ambassador to Islamabad, Ahmad Nader Nadery, an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) commissioner, amongst others (AAN’s media monitoring, also seehere).
Additionally, Japan’s Kyoto-based Doshisha University hosted an unprecedented trilateral meeting of the High Peace Council (HPC), Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, and the Taleban on 27 June 2012. Attended by Ghairat Bahir, Qari Din Muhammad, former Taleban’s minister of planning, Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef, and Muhammad Massum Stanekzai, HPC chief executive officer, the gathering discussed how to ‘pave way for peace and stability in Afghanistan’ (see here).
(3) AAN’s abridged English translation/description (description within ) of the ‘Resolution of Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga’
The members of Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga held detailed and effective discussions on the country’s major and important challenges, including the process of negotiation with the armed opposition against the government, the manner of US military presence in Afghanistan, anti-corruption, unemployment, and educational problems in schools and universities in the country.
Article 1: Peace is an Islamic affair and the reasonable conditions of the parties involved in the peace issue should be considered.
3. The relative appropriate role of the youth should be seriously considered in the peace program.
Article 3: Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga urges the government and the opposition against Afghan peace to prevent the interference of foreigners in the reconciliation process and make it an inter-Afghan process.
Article 7: The Afghan government should create employment opportunities for the youth so as to prevent them from joining the armed opposition.
Article 9: Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga urges the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to offer its all-out religious and brotherly cooperation and efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan. If there are any threats to the security of the country, the Afghan government should request military cooperation from impartial Islamic countries.
Article 11: Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga expresses its full disagreement with a permanent US military presence in the country, but supports the decisions of the government and people of Afghanistan with regard to short-term US military presence in the country.
Article 15: As the biggest strategic ally of the Afghan government, the US should resolve border disputes of Afghanistan with neighboring countries, particularly the Durand Line issue and the Helmand River water issue with Pakistan and Iran.
Article 16: When foreign military forces commit crime in Afghanistan, they should be prosecuted and punished in accordance with international laws and principles and the laws of Afghanistan.
[The resolution deals with corruption as a big challenge for the people and government of Afghanistan. It supports merit-based public appointments, the prosecution and punishment of those involved in corruption, serious monitoring and audit of foreign aid, top-down approach to anti-corruption, and prevention of the appointment of individuals with dual citizenship in important public positions.]
The Unemployment Problems of the Youth
[Constituting the bulk of Afghanistan’s population, the participating youth support a mixed economic system for Afghanistan as Afghanistan is not ready for a free market economy, security and safety for national and international businesses and investments, sending young workers abroad for economic purposes, and increasing participation of the youth in public sector.]
The Educational Problems of the Youth
[The participating youth support the creation of further public universities and teacher training institutes, serious monitoring of private schools and private institutes of higher education and reduction in the fees, establishment of links between Afghan and foreign universities, and reform in school and university curricula and appointment of persons with higher academic standards as university teachers.]
[In the end, the participating youth emphasize their participation in public affairs and their support for peace in the country. They also vow to work for the implementation of the resolution and to pursue an ‘alternative’ peace strategy in case the current reconciliation programs fail.]
Afghanistan’s National Youth Peace Jirga
National Loya Jirga Conference Hall, Kabul
15 Saratan 1391 [5 July 2012]
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020