‘Peace Jirga goes to Washington,’ was the headline in Payam-e Mujahid newspaper this week. The headline sums up how politics have been on hold in Afghanistan since President Karzai was invited to Washington and also, very succinctly, where the power of decision-making in Afghanistan lies. By Kate Clark, currently engaged as Senior Analyst with AAN.
The Afghan government had initially planned to hold what is officially being called a ‘National Consulting Peace Jirga’ to present its proposals for reconciling and reintegrating Taliban to fifteen hundred notable Afghans on 29th April (9th Saur). The man in charge of planning the jirga, minister and close confident of the president, Farooq Wardak, told the Afghan parliament the date had been chosen because, “a couple of historic events had happened in Afghanistan in that month.” (9th Saur is a day after the anniversary of the 1992 mujahedeen entry into Kabul and two days after the anniversary of the communist coup d’etat of 1978.) However, the third historic event planned for the month of Saur ended up being postponed after President Karzai received an invitation to visit Washington – his first since Barack Obama took power. He will discuss his plans for the Taliban first with the Americans and then present them to Afghans.
Getting the Americans on board is important – they clearly have the power to amend, reject or support the proposals. The Afghan notables, however, are expected to do little more than rubber-stamp the government plans – when they finally meet, probably on the 29th May.
‘Those who love peace will support the peace jirga,’ is one of the organisers’ slogans. This advice – or exhortation or warning – leaves little room for opposition. Nor do the official aims of the jirga suggest the possibility of dissent:
• consultation, understanding and agreement with the Afghan nation to achieve peace
• agreement on a framework of compromise with the opposition
• establishing a mechanism of compromise with the opposition
• There is an additional objective of ‘strengthening national unity,’ whatever that might mean
Delegates to the peace jirga will reportedly be split into discussion groups, so there will be some opportunity to talk over what are extremely important issues for the country. However, this is essentially a government-driven event. According to one insider, Farook Wardak and, ultimately, the president, have the final say, not only on what is on the agenda, but on who is invited. Here, the aim appears to be to pack the jirga with loyalists.
In terms of the categories of participants to the jirga, most bases have been covered: governors, senators whose terms have ended, MPs ‘district leaders’ and representatives from the higher ulema council, civil society, business, the Koochis, the disabled, refugees and ‘famous’ women. There will also be non-voting participants: cabinet ministers, advisory ministers, the Supreme Court, heads of agencies and commissions (unspecified, but probably the likes of the NDS, the IDLG, Red Crescent and Attorney General) and ‘core diplomats’ to attend on the first and last days.
On the women’s and civil society side, dissidents and sceptics are among those invited: as they have strong links with the media and some international players, it would be dangerous to leave such people out. However, the selection of ‘district leaders’ appears to be extremely partial and to have a strong pro-government bias, ie people have been chosen for their loyalty, rather than because they actually represent their districts. Governors have played a key role in the selection.
AAN has seen the list of delegates, with names and backgrounds from two provinces. The delegates from Nuristan do not appear to represent the full range of tribes in the province. Many are based in the provincial capital or Kabul and cannot actually visit home for security reasons – so how can they speak for their communities? Several have been accused of involvement in criminal gangs. The selection from Kapisa shows a better tribal and ethnic balance, but there is a bias towards Hizb-e Islami members and, again, a tilt towards people based in the provincial capital, rather than the districts.
Independent thought will be curbed, not only by who is at the jirga and what will be on the agenda; some Afghans have questioned what the gathering is being called. It is not, officially a loya jirga, even though it will be a gathering of representatives from across the nation – which is what loya jirga means. Using that term would be potentially dangerous, as under the constitution, a loya jirga has wide-ranging powers to decide on issues to do with national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. It can amend the constitution and impeach the president. So the meeting has been called a ‘national consultative peace jirga.’ Even this name is strange. A jirga is a decision-making body, but this jirga is advisory (mishwarat-e). However, even discussing this apparent contradiction in the name overestimates the importance of the event. It is clearly designed to be neither decision-making or advisory, but will rubber-stamp whatever plans are finalised in Washington.
As Karzai left for Washington, there were moves to get dissenting views into the public sphere. A two-day ‘Victims for Justice Jirga ’ has been meeting in Kabul. It was organised by the Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which brings together 25 civil society organizations working on transitional justice and brought together activists. Victims of the many factions which have fought over Afghanistan since 1978 featured prominently in the gathering. There was testimony from people who had suffered at the hands of the communist governments, the mujahedeen and Taliban regimes and, since 2001, from government agencies, Taliban insurgents and international forces.
One man from Kabul, for example, described how, in 1993, people (he didn’t specify from which faction) came to his home in Afshar, banging the door and asking what his ethnicity (qawm) was.
“When they realised I wasn’t from their qawm, they started beating me a lot – four or five of them, punching my body and throwing me up into the air and then letting me fall to the ground. My arm got broken and I fainted.”
He said he woke up in a jail where he was tortured so much he wanted to die. After forty-five days, he was released and returned home. It was, he said, the worst day of his life.
“I saw the bodies of my neighbours – children, women, men, girls, old men, stacked up on the walls of the Social Science Institute. The bodies were all dried out, the heads hanging down.”
By chance, he had missed the massacre and mass rape of civilians in Afshar.
The Victims’ Justice Jirga was an upfront attempt to take a different look at national reconciliation and justice. It is very much at odds with current government thinking: amnesty for war crimes is now law in Afghanistan. The ‘Law on National Reconciliation, Public Amnesty and National Stability’ was drafted by parliament in 2005 in what looked like an attempt by some MPs, who might have well-founded fears of war crimes tribunals to protect themselves from prosecution. It appears to have been gazetted and become law in December 2008 and the text released quietly a year later. The legislation applies not only to, ‘all political factions and hostile parties who were involved in one way or another in hostilities before establishing of the Interim Administration” (i.e. December 2001), but also to, “those individuals and groups who are still in opposition to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.’ (Article 3). (link to Sari’s blog on the Amnesty Law, 22-02-2010)
The Afghan government – and its international backers – have such a poor record on sacrificing justice to short-term security, political or economic considerations that it is not surprising that victims and human rights activists are extremely worried about the Amnesty Law and whatever the government’s plans are for reconciling Taliban. While many human rights activists believe ending the fighting is the paramount way of reducing violations, how it is ended and who benefits are of last-lasting consequence. Women’s activists say they have already been told by government officials in private, that despite public avowals, they should be prepared to make sacrifices in the interests of peace.
As this blog was about to be posted, AAN received a copy of the government’s draft Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme. The first line of the Executive Summary shows a surreal view of peace and war, with no mention of killing, bombing or fighting:
“For thirty years, the Afghan people have suffered and sacrificed to achieve peace. We Afghans desire not only short-term security, but a consolidated, sustainable peace.”
This, presumably, is what Washington is now assessing.
More details and analysis of the draft plan soon.
Annex: PRESS RELEASE: VICTIMS’ JIRGA FOR JUSTICE
‘NATIONAL RECONCILIATION IS NOT POSSIBLE WITHOUT JUSTICE’
KABUL, Afghanistan –May 10, 2010 — Over 30 years of conflict and violent repression in Afghanistan have left at least 1.5 million people dead and millions more displaced, maimed, and bereaved. Today, the Afghan government and international community talk about reconciliation, but what do the people want? What kind of peace do victims of serious human rights violations envision?
Afghans explored these questions in an unprecedented way on May 9, when more than 100 victims and their representatives from every region of Afghanistan and every phase of the country’s long-running conflict gathered in Kabul to share their experiences with each other and articulate a shared vision of a just peace.
The Victims’ Jirga for Justice, held at the Sitara Hotel, was organized by the Transitional Justice Coordination Group, a coalition of 25 civil society organizations working on issues of transitional justice in Afghanistan. The Jirga provided a valuable forum for the exchange of ideas of the forgotten majority in the reconciliation debate – the people of Afghanistan.
Emotions ran high at this first event of its kind in Afghanistan, as victims recounted stories of brutal crimes, personal loss and enduring impunity. “I was very young when I got married,” said an elderly female victim from Kunar province. “Then a mass killing took place in my village, in which my husband, uncle and all of our people were killed.” The speaker’s village was the site of a communist era massacre of more than one thousand people.
A male victim from Takhar broke down describing an official’s reaction to the abduction and murder of his two children at the hands of a local commander in 2007. An official reportedly told him ‘You’re young; you’ll have more children.’ “If we want justice, perpetrators have to be brought to court” the victim said.
The demand for trials was a common refrain from the jirga participants.
“A war criminal is a war criminal regardless of ethnicity or religion. They all have to be brought to court,” said a victim of Taliban era abuses in Kabul. “If we want to see a real peace, not a political or short-lived peace, there at least must be acknowledgement of the past.”
The speaker described how his brother was beaten to death with cables by the Taliban in 1997. His voice shaking, the speaker added, “We don’t want vengeance. We don’t want to wash blood with blood. We want justice.”
A victim of civil war era abuses in Parwan compared peace without justice to “praying without ablution.”
During the second half of the Victims’ Jirga, participants in small breakout groups discussed how to address the crimes of the past and how to bring peace for the future. The recommendations the groups presented at the conclusion of the conference were products of consensus reached among victims from widely varying backgrounds.
Their demands included the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and serious human rights violations, social and economic support for victims through reparations, support for disabled victims, transparent and fair reconstruction efforts and aid delivery to conflict-affected populations, and the creation of more spaces for victims to express their demands. Some breakout groups also recommended the removal of perpetrators from government, and the prevention of future crimes through comprehensive disarmament and the freezing of perpetrators’ assets.
When asked what they wanted from the international community, the victims said they would like the international community to aid in the location and documentation of mass graves and other atrocity sites, and to strongly support the transitional justice process.
Every group emphasized an overarching message —without justice, there will be no durable peace in Afghanistan.
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This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020