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The Killid Group
Opinions divided on Jirga dividendsWritten by
Saturday, 12 June 2010 12:45
Afghanistan's Peace Jirga finally concluded on June 6, leaving behind mixed feelings on its outcome. Some felt it had taken an important first step towards peace but others felt it had remained a talk shop whose decisions were both ambiguous and difficult to implement. Yet others doubted that the government would implement the decisions and whether the outcome would actually reach out to the armed opposition groups.
1600 delegates authorized the Karzai government to pursue the process of peace through negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but emphasized that any reconciliation could not include terrorist networks including the Al Qaeda.
The Jirga also called for a series of steps to be taken by the government and the international community to restore confidence in the government, fair governance and rule of law. High on the priority list were calls for the release of prisoners arrested without adequate evidence and the removal of the names of leaders of insurgent groups from the UN blacklist. Major other recommendations included steps to curb the operations of the international military forces by bringing the operations under the control of the Afghan government; call on the government to curb corruption; and call for setting up a representative high commission to pursue the peace process.
Concrete outcomes of the Jirga included an immediate order of President Hamid Karzai setting up a High Commission to review the status of prisoners and detainees being held without charge. In the political sphere the Jirga took its toll with the resignation of two senior officials of the security establishment who were held to account for not ensuring fool-proof security.
The Jirga was attacked by rocket propelled grenades as well as a direct armed assault on the opening day but despite an interruption of a few hours concluded without any other mishaps. However the two key figures, the Minister of Interior Hanif Atmar and the Chief of the National Security Directorate Amrullah Saleh, were unable to convince President Karzai with their explanations about the security measures taken in respect of the Peace Jirga and resigned. Subsequently both held press conferences acknowledging their inadequacies.
However, at least one of them has also pointed to other factors. Amrullah Saleh, the Chief of the Afghan Intelligence agency, had repeatedly raised his dissatisfaction about the lack of power and following his resignation suggested that the Jirga was the last straw in growing differences with the President. Both Atmar and Saleh had close relations with the international community and were trusted and respected by them. The future will reveal the full impact of their departure from the national security apparatus and the impact it has on the reconciliation process.
The response to the Jirga has been mixed. While some have expressed doubts about whether the Jirga will actually yield concrete outcomes, others have expressed hope that this would be the first step towards sustainable peace.
Abdul Azim Ghaznavi, a student from Ghazni province reflected the mixed opinion saying that while the Jirga could solve all the problems facing Afghanistan what was needed was a fundamental and definite mechanism that would persuade the insurgents to come to the negotiating table. He felt the High Commission that had been mandated by the Jirga would not be adequate.
Opinion was mixed on whether the Jirga decisions had favored the Taliban or not. While some felt the Taliban's concerns had been included, others felt that the Jirga had not provided enough of an olive branch to them. "The Taliban have been asked to give up their preconditions like the withdrawal of foreign troops, but preconditions are being set for them, for example the call on them to give up violence. This is a unilateral approach and it will not bring the Taliban on the negotiating table", Khoshal Khan Khairkhwa, a resident of Kabul said.
The failure of the Jirga to consider the Taliban demand for withdrawal of troops was criticized not just by the Taliban but also by a wider cross section of the population. While the demand was discussed and also supported in a number of committees, it failed to make it to the final declaration. However, the chairman of the Jirga secretariat Dr. Farooq Wardak said all the recommendations of all the committees would be part and parcel of the Jirga decisions and carry the same weight. According to the Jirga's own 16- point declaration, these 260 recommendations are to be attached to the final document and used by the government in the formulation of its peace policy.
Implementation the key
Other critics felt that the success or failure of the Jirga would be determined in the future depending on whether the decisions and recommendations were followed up by the government through concrete steps. "In the past it has been seen that if the decisions of the Jirga are actually implemented it is an affective forum. However if the decisions are not implemented it will be a useless exercise as in the past. Similar promises had been made by President Karzai and other Afghan officials before the Jirga but they were not fulfilled. In addition, previous Jirgas, such as the Pak-Afghan Jirga, did not yield anything of substance despite the hype and hoopla.
Others also pointed to the limitations of the Afghan government in implementing the decisions of the Jirga. While President Karzai has called for a review of all cases of prisoners being held in detention under Afghan custody, a large number of prisoners remain in the custody of the U.S. forces and the Afghan government cannot decide on their future.