The peace jirga has begun today without President Karzai’s main rival in last year’s presidential elections, Dr Abdullah, who has announced that he and his supporters are not attending. Abdullah’s party comrade, head of Jamiat-e Islami and former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, however, looks set to chair the jirga – a move which is seen as an attempt by the President to split potential opposition inside the tent and beyond. There is now an agenda of sorts and a better idea of how discussions will be structured. And it appears ever more clear that it will be largely Karzai loyalists hearing and discussing what plans the government has for the insurgency. A blog by AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, with input from AAN co-director Martine van Bijlert.
Dr Abdullah is now definitely out of the tent, taking with him as many as 60 to 70 MPs from his bloc. Other MPs who share his concern that the jirga is unrepresentative of the nation, unconstitutional and has no hope of moving any sort of peace process forward, have been debating whether to go or stay and have opted to stay as critical voices. “Actually, I don’t believe in this jirga,” said MP Mir Ahmad Joyenda, “It won’t have any outcome, but if we’re not there, they may decide something in our absence. I’m afraid, they will cross red lines.” Senior Junbesh leaders, including General Dostum, will not be attending, while other Junbesh activists, like MP Fazlullah Zaki will be. “We don’t know much about it, we weren’t part of designing this, but some of our people will participate and take part in the discussions. They will try to protect the constitution.”
MPs and other delegates predicted that Ustad Rabbani would be asked to chair the jirga, which they suspect is a move to weaken the opposition. A new opposition alliance, Omid wa Taghir (Hope and Change), was established by Dr Abdullah after the 2009 presidential election. Rabbani’s Jamiat is a member of the alliance and is considered one of its leaders. Rabbani’s possible chairmanship has also caused unhappiness among some of the MPs, particularly from among his old rivals from Hizb-e Islami, who have been discussing a walk out if he is elected or selected (the jirga agenda says either method could be used).
So far, though, the disapproval for the jirga has been expressed in fairly moderate ways. “We have not boycotted the jirga, but we will not participate in it,” was the stated strategy of Dr Abdullah. And Junbesh, unhappy over promises made and not kept (again) by Karzai in exchange for electoral support last year, is neither planning to complain loudly inside or outside the tent, but has shown its disapproval by keeping its big leaders away. These passive tactics seem hardly designed to generate much press coverage, let alone make political waves.
The cynicism about the jirga expressed by many MPs and on the streets is set against the high vaulting narrative that is being constructed by the government and by diplomats, who are presenting it as an event that it will boost the president and give him a mandate to move the ‘peace process’ with the Taleban forward. To Afghans however this is looking ever more like the president talking to his friends and trying to sell that off as a process of debate and national consensus.
However, if the aim of the jirga was to hammer out a real national consensus on how to deal with the insurgency, you would want delegates to have clout, influence locally and the ability to sell any deal to their people. You would want the critics there. You would also want proper representatives from groups who have links or sympathies with the insurgents. Yet, in most provinces, it seems governors or equivalent power-holders, have chosen Karzai loyalists. As Jowzgan MP, Zaki described it, the mechanism for selecting delegates, “was extraordinarily limited and manipulated, [leading to] “delegates who were hand-picked.”
There has been confusion as to the final list of is attending the jirga. Some people who turned up in Kabul, fully expecting to participate, found their names missing from the central database of participants. Last minute additions to the list have led to accusations that the make-up of the jirga was still being manipulated. There is still no final list that is publicly available, but AAN has managed to see a ‘late stage’ list of delegates from many, but not all of the provinces and it makes interesting reading.
Locals looking at the selection of delegates from Paktia, Ghazni, Herat, Ghor, Kandahar and Farah have commented that members of Hamed Karzai’s 2009 election teams feature strongly. Concerns have also been expressed in Nuristan, Kunar and Kapisa (but they hold true for many of the other provinces as well) that many of the delegates, who are close associates of the governors, live in the provincial centres or even Kabul and cannot actually travel to their districts or function as proper representatives. Several of the delegates are seen to be involved in drugs smuggling or other criminal activities, which obviously undermines their reputation.
In Kandahar, the list of delegates, on paper, appears to represent a good mix of tribes, including at least one delegate from each of the main ‘disgruntled tribes’, but this masks the fact that according to the Kandahar-based analyst, Alex Strick van Linschoten, “the real movers and shakers are not there, the people who are sought out when there’s a problem.” AAN was told that although there had been a consultative process in Kandahar to select the delgates – Kandahar’s tribes were asked to suggest names and, where there were shuras, to vote for representatives – but that in the end Ahmad Wali Karzai, checked over the list and crossed off the names he did not like, especially of those who were independently-minded. “The really significant people,” said one man, “who might have something to say, won’t be at the jirga, but people are not that bothered because they don’t see the jirga as important.”
In Uruzgan and Zabul the list represents the existing tribal inbalance of power with no real Ghilzai representation in the former and a Tokhi/Hotak dominance in the latter, which means that the main insurgency-affected areas and tribes are not or only minimally represented. The Uruzgan delegates that were selected were handpicked by local strongman Jan Mohammad. In Paktia, where the Hezb-e Islami, Karzai loyalist governor Juma Khan Humdard reportedly kept a close eye on selection, there is only one delegate from Zurmat, the most important centre for Taleban leadership outside the south and no delegates at all from the other district politically important for the insurgency, Gerda Tserai, birthplace of Taleban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. There is in general underrepresentation of the alienated tribes and groups among the delegates, both in numbers and in terms of the strength of the leaders.
The northern provinces have, as might be expected, more delegates who supported Dr Abdullah in 2009, but this is not the whole picture and local politics feature strongly. From Badakhshan, for example, there are a few independently-minded delegates, but the bulk are Shura-e Nazar and Jamiat associates. Of them, a few are pro-Abdullah, but most are close to the Karzai ally and Badakhshi strongman and MP, Zalmay Mujadiddi or to Fahim’s local ally, governor Baz Mohammad Ahmadi. Almost the whole Badakhshi ulema shura has been invited – mawlawis from Rabbani’s home district, Yaftal.
Sarepul, Balkh and Samangan do not seem to have sent any delegate who does not belong to one of the military-political factions; almost all delegates are Jamiat, Wahdat or Junbesh, with a few Hezb-e Islami thrown in for good measure.
Reportedly none of the western provinces (Herat, Badghis, Farah and Ghor) put forward women delegates in their initial suggestions, so bravo to Daikundi which most closely matches the national gender balance, with five out of nine of its suggested delegates being women.
The last word on who appears at the jirga or not, as insiders in Kabul say, was with the chief organiser, education minister Faruq Wardak, and the president himself. And what will they do once they all get together? Organisationally, we now know, delegates will be split into 28 groups, which will each be further broken up into 3 sub-groups to facilitate discussion of reconciliation and how to strengthen national unity.
As to those who are firmly outside the tent, the Taleban has said the conference does not represent the Afghan people and was aimed at “securing the interest of foreigners.” It called the event an ‘order of Richard Holbrooke” and said the delegates were all affiliated with the “invaders” and, “their powerless stooge administration, in one way or the other.” The other main insurgent group, Hezb-e Islami, called the jirga a “useless exercise” because “only handpicked people” were invited. Their legal largely pro-government wing in Kabul, however, went public to support the jirga and many of those hand-picked people representing the nation in Kabul today are Hezbi: a quarter of the delegates from Kapisa, for example, (surely an over-representation there), half in Nangarhar and all but one of the Laghmanis.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020