Political Landscape

The End of the Jirga: Strong Words and Not Much Controversy


As delegates gathered to discuss peace, all were aware of the continuing costs of war in Afghanistan. Here, a woman holds a child wounded in a powerful truck bomb attack in Kabul on 15 January 2019 claimed by the Taleban. Photo: Shakib Rahmani/AFP

As delegates gathered to discuss peace, all were aware of the continuing costs of war in Afghanistan. Here, a woman holds a child wounded in a powerful truck bomb attack in Kabul on 15 January 2019 claimed by the Taleban. Photo: Shakib Rahmani/AFP

The Consultative Peace Loya Jirga has ended in Kabul with reports back from the fifty committees of delegates, a speech from President Ghani and a communiqué which he said is now the government’s ‘roadmap’. Key points emerging from the jirga were calls for an ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue with the Afghan government in charge, for a ceasefire and protection of women’s and other rights. Kate Clark, Ehsan Qaane and Ali Yawar Adili (with input from the rest of the AAN team), report on the jirga’s conclusions and ask whether it will strengthen the government’s hands vis-à-vis the Taleban.

The Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, described by the head of the organising commission of the jirga, Omar Daudzai, in his opening speech to the 3,200 delegates as “an opportunity for representatives from provinces and districts to share their views and thoughts on peace and stability in Afghanistan,” has wrapped up. It was a day later than planned – it had taken longer than expected to elect the various jirga officials which meant the main ‘meat’ of the jirga, the delegates’ discussions, only began on day 3, rather than day 2 as planned.

The delegates

The jirga’s organisers said the delegates were representative of the nation; along with MPs and provincial council members, there were also delegates selected at the district level; how free and fair those selections were is not clear or how much influence the Palace had. There should have been at least some type of voting, but reports varied on how this was carried out (see this AAN backgrounder).

30 per cent of the delegates were women. They also featured reasonably well in the line-up of jirga officials (this after a delegation of women, Killid editor and delegate Najiba Ayubi told AAN, met Sayyaf to demand 50 per cent of the jirga officials). At the end (and after elections) four out of the ten members administrative board of the jirga were women, as were 13 heads and 28 secretaries of the fifty committees (see this favourable comment by women’s activist Mary Akrami here).

As in previous jirgas, the delegates were split into committees, fifty in this jirga, and asked to consider four questions:

1. How can we convince the Taleban to participate in [an intra-Afghan] negotiation? What has not been done so far that should be done?

2. What are the values and achievements that the Afghan government should not compromise on? Why they are important?

3. What are your views on the make-up of the Afghan delegation for peace? What should be the characteristics of the delegates?

4. How should the Afghan government deal with the neighbouring countries, especially the country which is financially supporting the Taleban and providing them weapons [a reference to Pakistan]? Generally, what is your expectation from countries who are involved in Afghanistan?

The committees’ proposals

These committees then reported back at the end of day four. The AAN team monitored their conclusions as broadcast on Radio Television Afghanistan. We only managed to get three of the fifty committees’ conclusions in written form (they have not been published yet), so we could only make a ‘rough and ready’ assessment of what we thought were their main proposals:

1. Almost every committee stressed the crucial need for a ceasefire, at least during Ramadan (which begins on 5 or 6 May).

2. Almost every committee demanded intra-Afghan talks, ie the Taleban talking not just to the United States, but to other Afghans.

3. Almost all of the committees stressed that representatives of women, civil society, youth, religious scholars and academics should be part of any delegation that negotiated with the Taleban. Some also said representatives of war victims and political parties should also be included.

4. Almost all committees said that women’s rights and the last 18 years of ‘achievements’ should not be negotiated away.

5. Some committees stressed the desirability for a slow and pre-scheduled withdrawal of international troops, which should not take place before direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taleban began.

6. Some committees suggested that the United Nations should supervise talks between the government and the Taleban.

7. Some committees said the provisions of the constitution, but not the constitution as a whole, could be amended if the Taleban asked for this, but it had to be according to the procedures laid out in the constitution (i.e. through a Constitutional Loya Jirga – information on this in our backgrounder).

8. Some of the committees said a regional consensus was essential and the countries supporting the Taleban should stop doing so. Almost no committee was specific on this issue.

9. A few committees asked the government to open a political office for the Taleban in Afghanistan and demanded an end to talks behind closed doors (whether this pointed to talks between the Taleban and the US was not clear, but implied).

Today, on the final day of the jirga (3 May 2019), President Ghani delivered a speech (read it here in Pashto) saying he endorsed the committees’ recommendations and said they would form the government’s ‘roadmap’ for peace.

The final communiqué

The final communiqué was released as the jirga ended. It was composed in suspiciously well-written language for a document compiled from fifty other different documents at speed  (see the Annex for AAN’s translation of the original Dari). It does contain many of the committees’ reported recommendations, but not all, and also features items not prominent in the reports back. Delegates that AAN spoke to (perhaps a dozen out of the 3,200, so a limited sample) said they generally thought it reflected the views they had heard.

The communiqué does not challenge the Palace view of what is needed from negotiations with the Taleban. In particular, it puts the government at the centre of any talks. It also excludes by omission the idea of an interim government taking over when the president’s constitutional mandate ends on 22 May. This idea is still on the table, despite the Supreme Court ruling, two weeks ago, that Ghani’s term can be legally extended until the results of the much-delayed presidential election are eventually in. The court’s ruling is not without controversy or opposition; as we reported, most of the other presidential candidates had already called on Ghani to stand down. One delegate told the media (see here) that his committee had reached a consensus on the need for an interim government, but this had not been reported to the hall. There is no way of checking this or whether other committees may also have reached this conclusion.

The placing of the government at the heart of any negotiations with the Taleban is also a ‘Palace-friendly’ answer to the Taleban’s dismissal of Kabul as a ‘puppet government’ that is not worth talking to and to the US acceptance of the Taleban demand that it speaks directly to the US and, at least initially, without the government being present.

Some items in the communiqué were equally prominent in our assessment of the committees’ reporting back. They include the urgent need for a ceasefire, the need for an end to interference by (unspecified) neighbours and the prospect of the withdrawal of foreign troops. Common items also included the value put on protecting the rights of women and the other ‘achievements’ of the post-2001 polity, and of having a representative negotiating team. However, here, the communiqué puts the need for “jihadi personalities” at the top of the list of necessary participants in any delegation – not mentioned much, we thought, in the committees’ reporting back – and then, as an apparently separate (mutually exclusive?) category, those who value human rights, have good reputations and are expert. Women, young people, those with disabilities, academics and ulema were also necessary members.

Both committees and the communiqué thought the constitution could be amended, if the Taleban wished it, but only according to the constitution, ie through a constitutional loya jirga. The communiqué said this could only happen “after a peace agreement” (emphasis added).

Other issues mentioned by the committees did not appear in the final communiqué, for example, some committees called for the United Nations to ‘supervise’ talks. Other proposals in the communiqué were not, we thought, mentioned much by the committees; for example, the idea (made by Chairperson Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf in his opening and closing speeches) that the dispute with the Taleban lay in ‘different interpretations’ of Islam. Also not featuring prominently, we thought, in the committees’ reporting was the release of Taleban prisoners; the communiqué says the “exchange of captives and release of prisoners” could build confidence between the two parties. Ashraf Ghani, in his speech, said the government was already identifying 175 Taleban prisoners it would free as a gesture of goodwill. He also said they were ready to discuss the technicalities of a ceasefire, although it would have to be bilateral.  The Taleban, reported the BBC, have already rejected this.

Two side issues can be mentioned here, to do with provisions in the 2008 Amnesty Law, usually cited for its controversial blanket immunity for those who perpetrated war crimes before 2001 and any current or future war criminals who reconcile with the government. It specifies that parliament must choose any delegation that negotiates with insurgents (art 5). It also says that the release of detainees and persons convicted of crimes related to the conflict is only possible if proposed by the now defunct Commission for Consolidation of Peace (kamisyun-e tahkim-e suh) (art 5). (For more details about the Amnesty Law, read AAN’s analysis here.)

Conclusion

Depending on what the actual aim of the jirga was, it could be viewed as a success or a failure. If the jirga was aimed at projecting a united front and forging a common negotiating position with the Taleban, among those Afghans broadly supportive of the post-2001 polity (the authors were not sure how to refer to this ‘side’), then it was a failure as soon as it was boycotted by major opposition figures, including other presidential candidates, Chief Executive Abdullah, the chairperson of the High Peace Council, Abdul Karim Khalili and eleven political parties. (1)

Opposition figures and parties have said, all along, that the jirga was “a political trick” and “election campaign” (see here), aimed at strengthening the Palace position that there is no need or obligation to have an interim authority. If this was the jirga’s real aim, to project Ashraf Ghani’s legitimacy as continuing president, then it could be seen as a reasonably successful, if minor, propaganda victory.

All that having been said, however, much of the substance of the communiqué and the committees’ conclusions were not controversial. Many, from all sides – Palace, opposition and civil society including women’s groups – have been united in calling for the protection of ‘post-2001’ rights and for those representing non-Taleban Afghans in any negotiations to be representative of the country at large. As former governor of Balkh province Atta Nur Muhammad, who has shared the communiqué on his Facebook page said, there was nothing in it that has not been discussed before). Atta also thanked the participants for not allowing the government to ‘deviate’ the jirga from its course. (As of yet, there has been no official opposition reaction to the jirga).

If this jirga had been convened last summer after the Eid ceasefire put peace on the agenda, before election campaign season and before the US’s decision to talk to the Taleban, it could have been a much stronger vehicle for creating consensus. Instead, with the opposition angry and suspicious and with the Taleban already speaking to those it considers the ‘real’ power facing it in Afghanistan, the United States, the point of this jirga was diminished.

As it is, this gathering of more than 3,000 Afghans has come as US Special Envoy Zalmai Khalilzad and the Taleban were beginning their sixth round of talks in Doha (it began on 1 May 2019) and after the failure of an attempt at intra-Afghan dialogue, also scheduled to be held in Doha, on 19–21 April. The Doha talks were cancelled after either the hosts or the Taleban (it was never clear) became unhappy at the size and unwieldiness of the ‘Kabul delegation’ – 250 people who would supposedly talk to 25 Taleban representatives. Referring to this in his speech today, Ghani said that, “Mandated and inspired by the resolution of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, I will assign a negotiating team, not an army of negotiators.” However, if the Palace again tries to organise the non-Taleban side of the dialogue, the team might – if Taleban sentiments remain consistent – still be rejected.

This is not to say that the Taleban should have a veto on which Afghans they talk to, or that the US should ‘exclude’ the government from talks with the Taleban (as Ghani and many other Afghans believe it is doing). However, despite the strong intent of the final communiqué, it is difficult to see how this jirga will strengthen the hand of the Palace vis-à-vis the United States or of Afghans supporting the 2001 settlement against the insurgents.

 

Edited by Rachel Reid

 

Resolution of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga

 9-13 Saur 1398 (29 April-3 May 2019)

Taking inspiration from the holy verse (wa amruhum shura bainahum) and pursuant to decree number 162, dated 20/12/1397 (11 March 2019), of the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we, the 3,200 members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, including women and men, elected representatives of the nation in the two houses of the National Assembly, ulema [religious scholars], rohaniyun [clerics  and influential and tribal elders, members of the provincial councils, members of the High Peace Council, representatives of civic and social organisations, women representatives, representatives of the private sector, academic institutions, writers and poets, artists, national and civil organisations, young people, media, associations of lawyers and association of defence lawyers, registered political parties, athletes, people with disabilities of [caused by] war, families of victims from the security and defence forces, families of victims of war, representatives of  the Popular Helmand Peace Movement, representatives of refugees residing in Iran and Pakistan, representatives of Afghan experts residing abroad, Kuchis, Hindus and Sikhs, and other influential and expert groups of the society, came together for five days from 9 to 13 Saur 1397 [29 April to 3 May 2019] to present our advice on the definition of peace and setting the parameters and framework for peace negotiations with the Taleban Movement for the parties involved in the Afghan peace process.

We, the members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, representing the noble and proud nation of Afghanistan, having endured long years of war and bloodshed, poverty, deprivation, migration and displacement; realising our religious and national obligations, the vital need of the people of Afghanistan for peace, and that honourable and durable peace does not mean only an end to fighting [but also] requires the protection of national interests, economic and social development, the elimination of poverty, bringing about political stability and regional and international consensus; also recognising the determination, forbearance, patience and sacrifices of the great nation of Afghanistan, especially of the security and defence forces of the country for achieving a durable peace and general prosperity [;recognising] the initiative of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to seek advice from the nation to end the war and bloodshed and to achieve durable peace, and the efforts of the international community in ensuring peace in Afghanistan; and reiterating [the need to] preserve Islamic principles and national values and jihad and resistance, and preserve the national sovereignty and territorial integrity, have gathered to convey peace-loving messages to the different parties involved in the Afghan peace process.

We, the members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, in accordance with the agenda of the meetings of the 50 working committees and the plenary session, conducted comprehensive discussions and agreed on the following articles:

Annex: The Final Communiqué of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga (29 April – 4 May) (AAN translation from the original Dari)

1. We, the participants in this Jirga, are determined and committed to bring durable peace to the country.

2. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the Taleban Movement to, given the unpleasant consequences of war and bloodshed, listen to the voice of this great mass of people who represent every corner of Afghanistan and denounce animosity and participate in the building up and prosperity of their homeland. War does not have a winner and peace does not have a loser.

3. One of the big factors of war in Afghanistan is different perceptions and interpretations of the religion of Islam. Members of the Consultative Peace Jirga suggest to the government, the Taleban and religious scholars to unify their perspective on the interpretation of Islam and pave the way for national unity and accord.

4. The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taleban Movement should accept the voice of the absolute majority of Afghans and declare an immediate and permanent ceasefire from the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan of this year and implement it across the country in order to respect the will of the people, honour the holy month of Ramadan, end violence, build confidence between the two parties, and put an end to the negative propaganda.

5. The Islamic Republic system is the great achievement of the people of Afghanistan and is the outcome of years of sacrifices and endeavours. Establishment and consolidation of peace in Afghanistan should be achieved by protecting the type of the system (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and through a direct negotiation channel.

6. The current constitution of Afghanistan is a national and invaluable document for the people of Afghanistan which should be preserved; but if needed, an amendment to some of its articles through principled and favourite mechanisms [envisaged] in this law is possible, after a peace agreement.

7. The fundamental rights of the citizens, enshrined in the constitution of Afghanistan, including the rights of women and children, political and civil right to participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to education and labour, the right to access public services as well as the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, people with disability, heirs of martyrs, as the fundamental pillars of consolidation of peace, should be preserved and strengthened in the peace process

8. The security and defence forces are the pride of the country. Consolidation and continuation of durable peace require strong national security and defence forces. Therefore, the people of Afghanistan, through this Jirga, emphasise on protection and strengthening of these institutions.

9. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga request the warring parties and the countries involved in the Afghan peace process to, through understanding and collaboration, paving the way for opening the political office of the Taleban in Afghanistan.

10. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government of Afghanistan to, in close coordination with the international community and after understanding among all factions (parties) involved in the peace process, and to preserve the values and achievements of close to two decades, prepare a feasible timetable for responsible exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan

11. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government of Afghanistan, all political parties and currents and effective national personalities to use the currently available opportunities to build a domestic national and political consensus at this historical and critical situation to advance the peace process and enter into peace negotiations from a single and Afghanistan-wide address.

12. All the involved parties should avoid preconditions that restrict the ground for the beginning of direct negotiations.

13. All parties involved should treat the captives and prisoners of the other in an Islamic spirit and with good behaviour and take actions, using constructive and flexible methods, [aiming at] the exchange of captives and release of prisoners for the purpose of further building confidence and goodwill between the two parties.

14. In order to achieve durable peace, regional and international consensus is imperative and vital. Therefore, members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the regional and trans-regional countries and the international community to coordinate their efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan with the government and put the role of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the centre of their initiatives and efforts.

15. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government to emphasise, in all negotiations and talks, a policy of good neighbourliness with the countries of the region and the neighbours. If there is continued interference by the regional countries or some of the neighbours in the affairs of Afghanistan, [the government should] formally lodge the complaint of the people of Afghanistan with the UN Security Council.

16. The government should, in consultation with influential national, political and social ‘addresses’ [influential people or groups], develop and enforce a comprehensive and all-inclusive plan for accelerating the peace process and beginning direct negotiations with the Taleban Movement, in considering of the advice of this jirga.

17. Realising the urgent need for an impartial body to facilitate the peace process, members of this Jirga recognise that, for the purpose of making the High Peace Council transparent and effective, fundamental reforms to the structure, organisation and performance of this Council should be carried out.

18. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, considering the past experiences, advise that the negotiating team be formed of jihadi personalities and [those who are] national, expert, experienced, have good reputations, are committed to human rights values and are peace-loving, with a manageable composition (maximum 50 people); [it should be formed] considering the ethnic balance and the presence of learned ulema, tribal elders, women, young people, the families of victims, people with disabilities, minorities, representatives of civil society, refugees, the media, Kuchis and of different classes and strata of the society, including some of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga members.

19. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to, for the purpose of facilitating and accelerating the peace process, identify the legitimate and reasonable wants and demands of the Taleban and take necessary actions vis-à-vis them for further confidence building

20. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga commit to convey this jirga’s message of peace to their people upon return to their areas and localities as messengers of peace and to start a comprehensive effort in cooperation with local administrations, ulema, tribal elders, young people and women, so that we can play our religious and national part in the ensuring peace.

21. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government to maintain its relations with members of this jirga and with the influential institutions and constantly keep members of the jirga posted on the implementation of the jirga’s advice and the progress of peace talks and negotiations

22. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, emphasising the articles of this resolution, address the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Movement of the Taleban, the International community, regional countries and other factions (parties) involved to respect the rightful wants and demands of the people of Afghanistan and the advice of this historic loya jirga and seriously and honestly make efforts and take practical steps to establish and consolidate a durable peace and prevent the continuation and intensification of the war and [continuing] casualties among ordinary people.

23. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, due to the significance of this historic loya jirga, want the president and administrative board of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga to print and publish all the views, opinions and recommendations of the 50 committees in a formal document.

 

[1] A day before the Jirga, on 28 April 2019, 12 presidential hopefuls issued (available in Dari here) a statement announcing their boycott of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga. They said (AAN’s translation of the original Dari):

We, the 12 presidential candidates’ election tickets of 2019 and a number of political parties of the country, believe that the consultative loya jirga which has been called by the president is untimely, unnecessary and a waste of state resources. In the current situation in which almost all international partners and Afghan politicians have intensified their efforts to ensure durable peace, the government of Afghanistan wants to consult with the people now.

We believe that this jirga is untimely and in contradiction with the peace-seeking efforts.

Ambiguity in the agenda, on one hand, and non-inclusiveness of the members of this Jirga, on the other, calls to question the effort to ensure peace as being national.

We believe that any initiative at the national level in the run-up to the presidential elections is an abuse of state resources for election campaigning in favour of a particular person.

Moreover, the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which according to the constitution has the duty to only compare the ordinary laws with the constitution, under the influence of the government and contrary to its authorities, has recently extended the term of the president until the elections are held.

This action is against the constitution and political consensus on one hand and a serious obstacle to bringing peace and holding transparent elections on the other.

The government had better spend the financial resources used for the jirga for the victims of the recent national disasters and fighting [and] for improving the lives of our people, around 52 per cent of whom are under the poverty line.

Therefore, we, 12 presidential candidates and our political partners, will boycott this jirga and will not participate in it.

Nur ul-Rahman Liwal

Enayatullah Hafez

Muhammad Ibrahim Alekozai

Muhammad Hakim Tursan

Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi

Faramarz Tammana

Sheida Muhammad Abdali

Ahmad Wali Massud

Nur ul-Haq Olomi

Rahmatullah Nabil

Muhammad Hanif Atmar

Muhammad Shahab Hakimi

The spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah also announced his boycott, saying the jirga was unnecessary, not necessarily legitimate and would have no result. The party of Second Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq, Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-e Mardom declaring its boycott said no one “will participate in this cosmetic Jirga on behalf of the party and those who will participate in the Jirga want to counter the deceits and khaima shab bazi (marionettes, puppet shows) advanced by the government as the agenda of the Jirga.” Boycotts were also announced by former president Karzai (available in Dari here) and Herati strongman, Ismael Khan.

 

 

Thematic Category: Political Landscape