Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

The Peace Process in Nangrahar; what people say

Fabrizio Foschini 6 min

It has been a year since the Peace Jirga in Kabul endorsed the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, APRP (still only a draft then), and the start of the peace process with the successive creation of the High Peace Council. We have been hearing almost everything about it, good or bad, in Kabul. But what has its impact in the provinces been? AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini listened to opinions on one of the major provincial peace councils, that of Nangrahar.

On Saturday 4 June 2011, Burhanuddin Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council (HPC), accompanied by the director of the HPC secretariat Ma’sum Stanikzai, briefed the National Assembly on the proceeding of the peace process.(*)

Talks with ‘the Hezb-e Islami, the Quetta Shura and Haqqani-saheb’ in the careful wording of Rabbani, have started, and he highlighted two or three points coming out of these. First, according to Rabbani, the Taleban that were contacted by the HPC are not interested in re-establishing a government like the Emirate of the ‘90s. Second, regarding the events that brought them to take arms against the Afghan government and its international backers, the insurgents gave explanations that had been reported, although not much heeded, by many researchers in the past (including AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Martine van Bijlert; for a more recent example see this article by Anand Gopal). Moreover, the Taleban indicated that they were scared to join the peace talks, lest they may be arrested or worse, as happened in the recent past whenever an important taleb approached the peace table. Finally, Rabbani presented the figure of around 1600 reconciled insurgents country-wide as a signal of HPC success.

These were not revolutionary findings. In fact, the present MPs were not particularly numerous for the occasion, nor were they particularly eager to question the HPC delegation, which, after the briefing, left the hall.

So what has been done in the year after the Peace Jirga was convened in Kabul and the peace process was triggered, outside the realm of official announcements, that is, outside the capital. Ustad Rabbani has been kindly, but insistently asking observers and analysts to be careful before criticizing HPC’s work, to avoid disrupting its achievements. For that reason AAN preferred to let persons who are involved in the process or have closely watched it express their opinions. And also, to be fair, not to look at remote provinces were the untiring efforts of the High Peace Council may just be starting – like Badakhshan, where the provincial peace council was only established last week – but instead in a quite strategic place like Nangrahar, where the provincial council has been in existence since last winter.(**)

‘The provincial peace council is completely ineffective: its members are people who cannot even get back to their community else they get killed by the Taleban. How can they help the peace process?’ – Journalist from Jalalabad

The peace process has started only by name, nothing has been actually done. No regulations or directives came from the central government, only some telephone work has been done till now. Last year the governors of the four provinces of the Eastern Region had a meeting with around 500 tribal representatives and appointed this shura. At first, they were talking of giving us an office inside the Directorate of Tribes, but we still don’t have any. I repeatedly asked governor Shirzai to obtain a separate office for us. We are not having regular meetings or assemblies, I would tell you if it was the case, but there is nothing to relate. From Kabul, from Rabbani, nothing has come, no programs nor money. Until now the Taleban showed no clear interest in the peace process; well, we also don’t have anything to offer or to propose to them, how can we go and contact them? There are some differences among the Taleban, between those closer to Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura and the lashkar [the bulk of the normal fighters] who maybe could be separated from the more ideological faction. But there are many more differences between the Afghan government and the foreigners, everybody goes its own way.’ – Malik Nazir, member of Nangrahar Peace Shura

‘We cannot report any results till now. No programs have arrived from Kabul, nor budget. We had our initial meeting about four months ago. In that jirga governor Shirzai was made head of the provincial peace council, and Malik Nazir was elected president of the tribal committee. I was appointed secretary of the peace council. We don’t have an office, we sometimes meet here (in the garden of the mayor’s guesthouse). We have some big people who have contacts with both sides in the conflict, but we cannot succeed in our work, because we do not have anything to offer. We need programs for the security of the reconciled Taleban, houses for their accommodation, jobs to offer them. We don’t have anything right now.Ten insurgents reconciled as of late, they came to us with their petitions, but the governor gave them nothing. Now they stay here [they were actually there – squatting among the flowers of the mayor’s garden and looking bored]. They are starting to say “it is better we go back, before it’s too late”. They surrendered their weapons and got nothing in return, now they fear the worst from their old comrades. Apart from their commander, who came with them, the rest are young kids [they were, indeed].’ – Haji Mullajan Shinwary, secretary of Nangrahar Peace Shura

‘The problems of the HPC are linked to the agenda of Pakistan and the US. Its role does not weigh much, compared to the international strategies. Furthermore, its members are individuals that do not believe in the state. They are there for the sake of their own name, to become famous, and as a sideshow project. (…) We see that Pakistan came here to put together a mixed peace jirga. Pakistan is also worried by its internal and external public opinion problems, and wants to show that it is actively seeking peace. But at the same time all it wants is to have its persons in the right places.’ – Civil society activist, Jalalabad

‘Peace is a necessity for Afghanistan, but the problem is that we do not know where to start. We want to achieve a peace that can be good for our people, not just for the interests of the US or Pakistan. We must talk with the Taleban, but the Americans want to first separate the Taleban from Pakistan. I believe that Pakistan should be on board in the peace talks. Every country has its own interests, it is obvious, and it is evident that without guaranteeing the interests of the US and Pakistan we will not achieve peace. (…) The support we have received from the central government has been very weak. The projects of the PRT talk about safe-houses, vocational training, providing jobs, but those are imagined things, dreams. In some districts like Sherzad, our priority is to build houses, because the Taleban leaders there live in Pakistan and it is impossible to deal with them. But I do not believe that publicizing that we give money to the insurgents when they reconcile is a good strategy. Every jobless guy will put on a turban and show up saying he is a taleb.’(***) – Nasratullah Arsala, Deputy of Nangrahar Peace Shura

We have no desire to spoil the possible achievements of the HPC and its provincial branches by negatively reporting about their problems. But it would be a pity, and another lost oppurtunity, if the whole peace process ends up thoroughly delegitimized and blemished before even starting. The solution to this problem does not rest with media censorship.


(*) In the same days the HPC asked for the removal of names of the Taleban leaders from the UN black list, which mainly bans them from travelling and opening bank accounts abroad. The focus has been on 18 names, among them that of Mawlawi Qalamoddin, former head of the notorious Vice and Virtue Department under the Emirate, and Mawlawi Arsala Rahmani, himself a current member of the High Peace Council. The HPC added that there is a ‘serious need for the international community’s cooperation in peace talks’.

(**) The Nangrahar Peace Shura was appointed on 7 of February 2011, its president being Governor Gul Agha Shirzai, and its deputy Nasratullah Arsala, the former head of the provincial council. It is composed by 30 members (or 29 plus the governor), 21 of whom stem each from one of the province’s districts, and eight who are representatives of different branches of the administration (governor office, police, NDS). Around mid-March it was divided in three working committees: the ‘peace’ committee composed of influential elders and headed by Malik Nazir from Khugiani district; the ‘security’ committee headed by the chief of provincial NDS; and the ‘development’ (or ‘aid’) committee, presided by the head of the Nangrahar private sector.

(***) This suspicion was confirmed by interviewees countrywide, with a tribal elder from Shindand district of Herat putting it in the funniest form: ‘Believe me, until now not a single taleb who was really a taleb has reconciled himself with the government in Shindand. Those who reconciled are poor wretches that organized an arms-trade with the weapons they had kept from the wartime or stolen from the police, many even buy old weapons for a few afghanis, disappear for a few days spreading the news that they have gone to Pakistan and then come back saying “Here we are, the Taleban who came to reconcile.” The problem is that in Afghanistan we don’t say things how they are, the government announces hundreds of reconciled individuals, but they just aren’t the right ones.’ (it may be of some interest to note that Herat has not been endowed with a provincial peace council yet, the office of Mojaddidi’s old Program for the Strengthening of Peace (Program-e Tahkim-e Solh, or PTS, in Dari) is still active there, headed of by a member of Mojaddidi’s family)


Government Jirga


Fabrizio Foschini

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