Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Traditional Loya Jirga 3: lacklustre political theatre (amended)

Kate Clark 7 min

The Traditional Loya Jirga (TLJ) is over, after a drab last day in which President Karzai got his public backing for signing a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with the United States. However, it was clear to all watching the proceedings on television that the discussion had hardly been lively and the results tightly controlled. The 2000 delegates had spent 2 days discussing the SPA and the peace process in 40 working groups and every single one accepted the SPA but – in imitation of President Karzai’s opening speech on Wednesday, they had conditions. Almost word for word, the working group leaders expressed the same demands and injunctions. At the end, a formal declaration was read out and Karzai said he agreed with it. Kate Clark reports on a day of political theatre at its most uninspiring.

‘Afghanistan national assembly backs pact with US’ was the Associated Press headline published while the spokesmen and women of the 40 working groups of the jirga were still reporting back to the TLJ’s plenary session (see full report here), picked up by NPR, ABC and others). It was a disingenuous way to report the efforts of this largely hand-picked group of Karzai loyalists whose discussions in working groups and reporting back gave every appearance of having been scripted beforehand.* After two days of ‘discussion’ in working groups, there were no surprises. If there had been any sort of real debate, any genuine representation of views from across this and varied country, this would of course have been impossible. Rather than the Afghan lion which President Karzai spoke about in his opening speech, these delegates unfortunately looked more like herded sheep.

There was so little tension in the tent on the last day that many delegates wandered off – although all appeared back for the finale when the jirga’s declaration** was read out. This document repeated pretty much the same points which the working groups had made. It was no surprise then when President Karzai said he was happy with the declaration.

‘I’m very proud of you,’ he told the delegates. Although he had only made two or three points in regard to the SPA, he said, referring to the conditions he had articulated during his speech which opened the jirga. ‘You made 76 articles and I totally agree with the declaration.’ They had remembered Afghan pride and the religion, he said, the honour of Afghan homes, and the nation’s relationships with its neighbours. ‘You thought of all the issues, the conditions – but finally accepted the Agreement.’***

Perhaps the majority of the Afghan people do want an SPA with the US,**** but we are no wiser whether this is the case or not following the jirga. Far from it being ‘a national assembly backing a pact with the US’, this was an utterly unconvincing piece of political theatre which attempted to give the impression of a national assembly backing the pact.

Most of the declaration dealt with the proposed SPA. As in the reporting back by the working groups, many of the articles were injunctions. Even when the grammatical passive was used, these were clearly orders to America:

The religious sanctity, culture and traditions of the people of Afghanistan must be respected, without exception, the USA should equip and supply the Afghan security forces with all kinds of modern ground and air military equipment and facilities, peace must be ensured, the borders guarded and bases not be used to attack the neighbours, although at the same time, America should support Afghanistan if it is ever attacked.***** America must respect Afghan independence and sovereignty. More aid should be put through the government budget and more attention paid to basic issues and the reconstruction of infrastructure in Afghanistan. The US should assist in attracting investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources so that they benefit Afghans more. The US should cooperate in giving loans to the private sector and increase cooperation in the health sector.

Bases must be far from cities, residential areas, mines and ‘underground areas’ and preferably near the borders, especially the borders of countries which threaten Afghanistan. The US should promise to end bodies which parallel government and cooperate with the respective government bodies. Foreign forces must not search Afghan houses.  Night operations conducted by the American forces must be ‘Afghanized’ as soon as possible and indeed all operations should be commanded by Afghans. America shall not interfere in Afghan internal affairs and should transfer all prisons and prisoners to  the government as soon as possible.****** Americans committing crimes in Afghanistan should be tried under Afghan law and imprisoned in Afghanistan. The SPA must be in Dari, Pashto and English, start with a ‘Bismillah’ and should be valid for ten years only.

What America will think about all this is another matter. Afghans may think they are doing the US such a huge favour by allowing bases on Afghan soil that they can make such demands. The Americans may want the pact so much they are willing to overlook the humiliating way in which the demands were put. Nevertheless, the strong impression given by the declaration and the way the working group leaders spoke was that they view Kabul as the senior partner in this relationship and America as a cash cow.

As to the peace process, there were very few specific details in the working groups’ reporting back or the final declaration – as was the case in Karzai’s opening speech. This looked like another indication that the jirga’s script had been formulated beforehand. In this case, the more flowery the language, the less content there was.  The following gives a flavour of the eventual text:

‘Friends, opponents and enemies’ should clearly be defined and negotiations only take place who are Afghan, who have a clear ‘address’ and who want a political solution. The ‘door to peace’ should remain open to those who want to give up violence. Pakistan should change its policy towards Afghanistan and honestly cooperate in the peace process. More attention should be paid to the peace process in provinces, districts and villages and it should be implemented in parallel with the security transition, good governance and general development. A peace studies centre should be set up. Provincial peace committees should be reviewed and their shortcomings addressed. The government should provide jobs and education.  The peace process must be Afghan led (and with thanks and requests for continuing support) the jirga asks the international community, regional and Islamic countries not to set up  parallel structures. In particular, the US should stop talking to the Taleban in secret.  The murder of Ustad Rabbani, the martyr professor was condemned.******* And so on.

How different all this was even from the Peace Jirga******** held in May 2010 in which delegates, even though largely hand-picked, were asked to discuss talking to the Taleban. Delegates then said how useful, ‘democratic’ and nation-building it had been to sit in working groups where a woman’s rights activist or urban technocrat got the chance to thrash out issues of national importance with a mullah from Khost or a tribal leader from Badghis. The final declaration, although pre-scripted in general – it picked and chose between the working groups’ suggestions – accepting the call for Taleban to be de-blacklisted, for example, and ignoring the many calls for a ceasefire. There had at least been a sense of real debate in the hall, even if much of their conclusions was eventually marginalised and the government made sure it got its priorities into the final agreement. The TLJ was an even more managed and a far duller affair.

Even the president did not seem that interested in the results. After saying that he agreed with the jirga and praising those who had secured and guarded the venue, he unaccountably wandered off onto other topics: the need for Afghanistan to become financially sustainable, how much better and more accountable the systems in India and Britain for hiring and firing public servants were and the need for better education in Afghanistan.

After a little inaudible heckling from the floor, the microphone was given to two delegates – one spoke about Pakistani missiles, US bombing and a mass grave in his home province of Kunar while the other spoke about the numbers of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The president took back the microphone, once again said he agreed with everything in the declaration and put it to the floor for the delegates’ assent – which they did in a ragged, unprepared sort of way; it happened so swiftly, it had been done before this viewer had barely noticed what was happening. And then, almost immediately Karzai said he was leaving and was out of the tent.

The SPA and the peace process are important issues for Afghanistan; unfortunately, the four days of the jirga were a waste of time – if real discussion had been the objective.


* One indication of this was the head of the 7th working group saying the 57 articles his they had listed were the same as those in the Agreement.

** For the Dari and Pashto text of the declaration, see here

*** The translation is not official, but AAN’s own, taken as we watched jirga procedings. If an official translation is released, we will amend the blog accordingly.

**** The US seem to prefer a SPD, a Strategic Partnership Declaration, on a legally lower level not to pass through Congress. US media, when quoting Washington officials, prefer this term, as in this example from the Washington Post (link here: Secretary Clinton, in her 27 October testimony in Senate, did not specify and talked about a ‘Strategic Partnership’ in general (read here:, while Admiral Mike Mullen, in his last Senate testimony on 22 September, explicitly referred to a ‘Strategic Partnership Declaration’ (read his testimony here).

*****  It should be mentioned in the document that if a third country attacks Afghanistan, the USA will support Afghanistan. [article 21] Unless it is in the context of the war  against terrorism, no military action can be conducted against other countries from Afghan territory. The USA should respect this principle and present specific guarantees in terms of its implementation. [article 34]

****** America shall not interfere in affairs related to the National Assembly, political structures and judicial affairs in Afghanistan or have prisons on Afghan land. Therefore, the responsibility of all American prisons which exist on Afghan territory must be transferred to the Afghan government along with all its prisoners as soon as possible. [article 13]

******* The martyrdom of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani – former president, chairman of the peace council and leader of the jihad and resistance of the people of Afghanistan – seriously damaged the peace process. We strongly condemn the inhuman and un-Islamic action. We believe in peace and we ask the government and the High Peace Council to seriously continue the path of the martyr professor and not allow the country’s enemies to achieve their calamitous goals such as the failure of the peace process, creation of distrust among the people of Afghanistan and preventing the armed opponents from joining the peace process. More work should be done towards the improvement of relations between people and government because the current situation is the result of penetration of terrorist agents of the enemies in the country. [article 57]

******** For a detailed look at the National Consultative Peace Jirga, where many of the same problems arose, see AAN’s series called Peace Jirga 1-9 (the first one is here)


Government Jirga