Political Landscape

PEACE JIRGA BLOG 8: The Afghan jungle’s big beasts and ‘lively debate’


The peace jirga has left the older generation of factional leaders nicely split: a few (Sayyaf, Rabbani, Mujadddidi) have been honoured by the president and treated like long-lost brothers by the world’s diplomats; others (Dostum, Mohaqiq, Abdullah) are sitting, Achilles-like, sulking in their tents; while just a couple from the 80s generation of mujahideen stalwarts (Hekmatyar, Haqqani) have been left, issuing curses from the wilderness. Meanwhile, in the jirga tent itself, delegates have told AAN there has been real, lively debate about what to do with those relatively new kids on the block, the Taleban. On the third day of the peace jirga, AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, reports.

As the camera of Afghan television panned over the Afghan notables sitting in the front row of the jirga on the opening day (see a nice pic from the working groupshere), familiar faces from the Afghan war were prominent. It felt like an old boys’ club, as Sebghatullah Mujaddedi – head of the Jebha-ye Nejat-e Melli, (the National Salvation Front), Head of the Senate, former president and head of the Strengthening Peace Programme (Program-e Tahkim-e Solh) which has done so badly, since 2005, in luring disaffected Taliban over to the government’s side (see earlier blog New Bureaucracies to Welcome ‘Upset Brothers’) – said he was too old to take the chairmanship of the jirga and nobly gave it up to his youthful (?) mujahideen comrade, successor president, MP and head of the Jamiat-e Islami party, Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The move, by all accounts, had been well prepared for, with ministers and governors having worked the delegates for two days before the jirga began, telling them it was for the good of the nation if they let Ustad take the chair as he would “bring the Tajiks in.” It seems the government did enough to head off voiced opposition – although many delegates were unhappy, “Contestation of his appointment was massive and spontaneous,” said one delegate, “but afterwards, even the most critical towards his appointment decided not to abandon the jirga sessions and to accept his presidency.” Another delegate told AAN, “The civil war really kicked off when he became president. Obviously it wasn’t just him, but he was responsible for a lot of death and destruction. The Pashtuns were very gracious in not raising their voices against him.” Khaled Faruqi of the legal wing of Hezb-e Islami – Jamiat’s rivals for more than forty years – was cryptically dismissive, “People in the jirga from Hezb-e Islami and elsewhere have their own comments to make about Ustad Rabbani’s leadership. A jirga can only be functional, if the chair is trustworthy for both sides of the dispute and it’s possible the suicide attacks [on the first day] were a response to his nomination… but this jirga isn’t a long-term thing, so his leadership doesn’t matter.”

Meanwhile, several other big beasts of the Afghan jungle have chosen not to attend, along with Dr Abdullah, former presidential hopeful and a senior member of Shura-ye Nazar/Jamiat-e Islami, who took an estimated 60-70 MPs and senators out of the jirga (see earlier blog Who’s come to town… and who’s staying away), the leaders of Hezb-e Wahdat (Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq) and Junbesh (Sayyed Noorullah Sadat and General Dostum) are also not attending. It has all been done very politely, with pious wishes for peace, but the animosity with President Karzai is clearly there – over what are perceived by Junbesh as broken election promises and by Wahdat as lack of support over the Hazara/Kuchi conflict. It is a very quiet opposition from the leaders of parties with mass support in the north and central highlands, a barely expressed boycott by those who – according to some of their fellow invited delegates – did not want to make a scene that would alienate the big international players who want to see (the appearance of) a successful jirga. According to one female delegate from Paktia it showed that those who lived in secure provinces simply didn’t care about insecurity in the south and east. She hoped that their positions would be irrelevant, “If ever we count on them, we will lose our nation. I hope the international community and the public pays attention to the majority.”

It is difficult to tell how many delegates have also quietly withdrawn, as representatives spent Day 2 split up in their committees. AAN spoke to one Uzbek delegate who was listening to music in his room on Day 2, who said some had stayed away because the jirga was not serious, while others were frightened of a repeat of Wednesday’s rocket attack. Some attending delegates told AAN numbers appeared to be steady, but one said his group was down by fifteen to twenty members – out of fifty-five to sixty on Day 1). Official figures said 97 % of delegates had turned up for Day 2.

In these blogs, AAN has looked in detail at how, in many provinces, Karzai loyalists were hand-picked to become delegates. The question was always, would such a jirga work and would there be real room for dissent?

Interesting feedback has come from the delegates themselves as they emerged from their 84 sub-committees, late on Thursday night. The discussions, they said, had been lively. There was room for fresh ideas, dissent and criticism of the government. The delegates were asked to look at three broad topics: consultation with, understanding from and agreement with the Afghan nation to achieve peace (ie should the government negotiate with the Taleban); plus looking at a framework and a mechanism of compromise with the opposition. Delegates were also asked to consider how to strengthen ‘national unity.’ The Government’s Peace and Reintegration Plan, which was taken to Washington, did not take centre stage and discussion has largely centred on negotiations. It was not constrained, delegates said and pre-arranged facilitators did not interfere in or close down debate.

“When you look at it as a civic programme, as an exercise in democracy,” said one MP who did not want to be named, “it has been very positive, bringing people from different parts of the country to sit together and talk. For example, in our group we looked at women’s rights. The mullahs said they were not against education, as long as it was segregated, but said women could not work. The women’s activists responded forcefully with the support of some men in the group and there was a very heated debate. So the jirga may help people to see others’ points of view. There are lots of Karzai loyalists here, many of his ‘election operatives’ from last year’s campaign, but the discussion has not been restricted and there has been criticism of the government, for example, our group looked at how corruption, bad governance and rule of law issues are causing the insecurity.”

Another delegate, a woman’s activist, who again did not want to be named, said she was pleased that many, if not most, of the 28 committees had women deputy chairs. “Having different groups coming together, with everyone contributing is challenging. It’s been a good discussion, some of the conversation was very lively and women are active. I was surprised, I thought we’d be looking at a ready-made draft of a document, but no, we’ve had open-ended questions to discuss and some of the discussions have been very lively, eg debating how powerful are the Taleban, what is their motivation, are they united? And on how the ulema can be involved, especially the young ulema who are actively speaking against the national interests.” That fresh proposals were coming from delegates was confirmed by other interviewees, despite what one man said was the presence of a “number of issues and themes laid down by organizers during the preliminary sessions.”

A woman delegate from Paktia told AAN her group had discussed giving government positions to Taleban joining the peace process and the need for guarantees of security, (possibly secure locations for reconciled Taleban to live in). She said there was also a suggestion to send delegations to Pakistan and to ‘the foreigners’ (i.e the Westerners, ISAF, the Americans) who had to be convinced to obey the rules and suggestions made in the jirga’s final declaration. “If the international community does not give independence to the government of Afghanistan,” she said, “if the foreigners don’t want peace, then it all becomes impossible.” Another delegate said the mullahs and mawlawis in his group (possibly pro-Hezb-e Islami and pro-Taleban) wanted a time-table for the withdrawal of international forces and a proper framework for their presence.

The main question is to what extent this ‘lively discussion’ will actually feed into the final communiqué and into government policy. The un-named MP said he had already seen a draft of the final communiqué before the jirga started and he would be interested to see if it changed, following two days of discussions. “As a civic education exercise, it was good,” he said, “but this was like a western style workshop, a conference, not a jirga – which, remember, is a decision-making body.” He quoted one member of the organising committee who allegedly said, “Let them talk, it will get the air out of them.”

This delegate incidentally touches on the ambiguity of the gathering and the terminology used: traditionally a jirga would have binding decision-making power, but this one has been termed a ‘consultative’ one (mashwarati, which comes from the word shura). A shura only gives advice to a leader – who having heard the advice has the authority to act as he sees fit.

So long as the jirga ends on time, that final communiqué should be released today, Friday.

 

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape, War & Peace