What are prospects for Afghanistan's long-awaited peace jirga?
After several delays, some 1,600 delegates from across Afghanistan are to meet Wednesday for a three-day peace jirga, or meeting. But no government opponents or insurgents will be at the gathering, which targets consensus on how to pursue peace talks.
Some 1,600 delegates from around Afghanistan are descending on the capital to discuss peace. But this three-day gathering, or peace jirga, which begins Wednesday, won't be hashing out a deal that brings the troops home: It is neither legally binding nor does it involve the government's opponents.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, the Afghan government says the "consultative jirga" is simply trying to build national consensus on how to pursue peace talks by answering some of the most basic questions.
"A lot of the past efforts targeting peace in Afghanistan were not that clear. Despite all of the effort made, we don't have a clear definition of who the opposition are and what is it we can talk with them about and what is it we cannot negotiate," says Najibullah Amin, head of policy for the jirga. "The bulk of the work is to identify what are the motives behind the insurgency."
Even with limited goals, many Afghans question the timing and legitimacy of the three-day event that starts Wednesday. The gathering does not meet delegate requirements for a loya jirga, or grand council, that would have a fuller representation and thus authority under the Constitution. Instead, aside from some high-profile figures such as parliamentarians and civil society leaders, the guests have been selected by the government.
"To have peace in a country you have to involve all different bodies of the nation," says Fawzia Kofi, a leading female member of parliament (MP). "The people who are hand-picked are not enough. You need people in the international community and the people who are actually fighting."
She and other parliamentarians are debating whether to boycott the event, with some arguing the jirga is unconstitutional and others wanting "to keep an eye on the agenda," she says.
The government says this jirga, which was delayed several times, is part of a longer process.
The first step involved recent visits by President Hamid Karzai to neighboring countries, including Pakistan and Iran, as well as Russia and the United States. The jirga is meant to build internal backing for a peace plan, which will then be presented in July to the Kabul Conference, a gathering of mostly Western foreign ministers. With domestic and outside support, the government hopes to confidently pursue negotiations with the insurgency.
Will insurgents care?
Whatever plan emerges, however, may not be of any interest to the militants. In recent months, the Taliban has escalated attacks on military bases around the country.
"The Taliban is not willing to cooperate unless they are weakened," says Khalid Pashtun, an MP from Kandahar Province, the insurgency’s heartland. He wishes the jirga would be held after the US military completes its summer offensive in Kandahar because "you would have better impact, more willingness from the opposition."