Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sacrificing women's rights to secure peace will leave us back where we were 10 years ago

"If the conflict is to be wound down, real compromises will have to be made on the constitution, women's rights and civil liberties." These are the words of an editorial comment in Afghan Scene, a magazine written by and mainly for the international community in Afghanistan.

After years of fierce fighting and numerous counterinsurgency initiatives, the Afghan government and some of its international allies seem to have reached to the peak of desperation. They are now even exploring whether Afghan women's rights can be sacrificed in order to declare "mission accomplished".

The idea of subsuming women's rights so that the war can end has come in formal and informal talks between some parliamentarians, government officials and is also reported to be part of cynical discussions among some of the international diplomats in Kabul gatherings.

Many women activists believe the growing Talibanisation of the Afghan government will not only bring further instability, as it could upset the diverse ethnic composition of Afghanistan, but also predict that they will pay for this political settlement with their rights.

Despite receiving promises from the members of the international community and the Afghan government about the so-called "red lines" of talks with the Taliban, women activists are concerned that recent developments are step-by-step moves towards the loss of women's rights.

The Afghan peace jirga earlier this month legitimised criminal aspects of the insurgency by referring to offenders merely as political "angry brothers". It ensured that impunity will continue – for example, through the formation of a commission to review the cases of militant prisoners.

In the past two weeks, according to Afghan national television, around 15 ex-combatants have been released from two prisons in Parwan and Kabul. The longest trial that took place was four hours.

Women activists fear that the judiciary is not equipped to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. As a result, notorious war criminals and human rights violators will be released under this political settlement, including the men that threw acid in the faces of girls in Kandahar, those who assassinated the senior police officer, Malalai Kakar, and those militants who continue to target girls' schools.

The same peace plan also allows the militants to keep their guns even though they embrace the reintegration mechanisms. This is of great risk for the women of Afghanistan, who have been oppressed, killed and tortured by the power of guns during the civil war and afterwards.

It appears that the government is over-ambitious in this talk of political settlement with the militants, and the new commission is more political than legal, so it will serve political agendas. The president has used his powers to pardon prisoners, as we witnessed in the past – including criminal elements of the insurgency who were responsible for kidnapping rackets. It is questionable whether the commission will be just and transparent amid the corruption and growing nepotism of the state.

The former chief of the Afghan intelligence services has shared his concerns over the political pressure of the quick release of militants in the past few years. He called the Pul e Charkhi central prison a "terror camp" where militants and terrorists are too easily freed to go back to militancy.

Women activists are concerned that this short-termist approach to "peace" will not only be a threat to justice but will also create further opportunities for more corruption and nepotism within the Afghan government.

The overarching concern is the impact of such a strategy in the short and long run. If dangerous criminal militants are easily freed, what does this mean for societal welfare and security in the first place? Does it not call into question the overall "counterinsurgency" operations?

While these developments reflect looming threats for the women of Afghanistan, the argument of sacrificing their rights has been created for purposes of the peace programme. But Afghanistan has the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world. More than half of school-age girls are not able to go school and those who dare to go are too often threatened by insecurity and school attacks.

Women in politics are taking risks with their lives (those who threaten or kill them rarely go punished), while the new election law gives their seats to a man if they don't run for office due to security reasons. The media rarely covers the conditions for women in the central and northern provinces who are plagued with hunger and poverty because they do not relate to the counterinsurgency initiatives.

It is in these circumstances that we are being asked to sacrifice. As one activists from the Afghan Women's Networks said: "We have sacrificed for the past 30 years with our lives and rights and the men were the ones who killed and ruined. We are also not so privileged that our government will fight for us – therefore it is time for them to sacrifice their powers and give up creating more violence and injustices for women."

There is a humanitarian call for the international community members struggling for stability and governance in Afghanistan to unify their voices as the plight of women gets murkier. There is a stronger need for further accountability on the part of the Afghan government before we end up in the same Afghanistan that we were in 10 years ago.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quick Justice: Peace Jirga and political settlements in Afghanistan

The Afghan Peace Jirga convened a 16-article declaration at the end of the three-days consultation on the Afghanistan's Peace and Re-integration Program Plan. One of the recommendations from the declaration was :

“We ask the Afghan state and the international forces present in Afghanistan to, for the purpose of showing goodwill, take immediate and serious action in terms of releasing all those who serve in different jails based on unreliable reports and unproved accusations.”

And for the first time in its 10 years history, the Afghan government took immediate action as requested. The President issued a decree on June 5, 2010 and castigated a Commission to review the cases of the prisoners who were held under the national security threats law and based on the reports from local media, so far at least 15 men have been already released from Parwan ( formerly known as Bagram) and another detention center of the foreign forces in Darulaman of Kabul province.

While this gesture of good will might be appreciated by some of the prisoners who are innocent and are held on flawed assumptions of terror and insurgency, the same Commission lacks any objective and legal process to investigate the cases further and prevent any mishaps of justice that would eventually result in more instability for Afghanistan, if wrong people are released. According to the National television (RTA)report last week, the trial that set 5 men free in the Parwan jail last week lasted for only 4 hours. Critics say that more than a trial, it was a political deal.

Critics are also skeptical that the prospect of such a government Commission would be to implement the government approach of reconciliation and re-integration that only considers the insurgents as " angry brothers" and overlooks the criminal aspects of their insurgency.Particularly, after the sidelining of the Director of National Security and Minister of Interior on the rationale of opposing the government's neglecting strategy on the parts of the criminal militants, the government Commission is more political than legal. Although, the President has used his powers to pardon prisoners as we witnessed in the past and militants like Qayum Zakir, Rauf Khadem and Akbar Agha have been released in the past and they re-joined the insurgency. It is also a matter of concern that amidst of corruption and growing nepotism, how can such a Commission be just and transparent? This matter has been echoed in the interviews of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commissioners as well. The other question remains on the lack of security experts particularly from National Directorate of Security (NDS) on this Commission, as they have the primary determining factors of detaining the prisoners in the first place. The Chief of NDS has expressed his concerns over the quick releases of militants in the past few years and in his last speech in the parliament, he calls the Pul e Charkhi central Prison as a "terror camp" that militants and terrorists come and easily freed and go back.

This approach is not only a concern for justice but will also pave the opportunities for more corruption and nepotism going on by and large within the Afghan government. But the overarching concern and dilemma would be the impact and consequences of such a strategy in the short and long run. If dangerous criminal militants are easily freed, what does this mean for the societal welfare and security in the first place and then questions the overall "Counter-insurgency" operations going on at the cost of millions of dollars and lives of the national and international forces. As the Chief of ANDS has said in his latest Tolo tv interview, " The government is no more serious about its national security" so how can this government bring security to Afghanistan and compliment the international community's efforts in the region, remains an important question.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Sun in the Sky

"The Sun in the Sky" is a discussion paper by Matt Waldman, published by Crisis States Research Center of the London School of Economics. The report is a product of months-long research and interviews with Taliban commanders and intermediaries in the most volatile provinces of Afghanistan, that is often rare for any foreign journalist and researcher. Hence, I also think Waldman should be appreciated for operationalizing the assertions and alleges on Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to an important extent.

At least Afghans who are aware of their history do not need any academic scrutiny to prove that the Taliban and insurgency in Afghanistan are the creation of ISI. The Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS) have always provided the evidence of ISI's back up to the suicide bombers and insurgents sent towards Kabul from Pakistan's NWFP or North and South Waziristan. While many journalists including Ahmed Rashid and Steve Coll have written books on the various gamuts of the ISI-Taliban nexus, the Pakistani political leaders have too confirmed about ISI support to Taliban as its official policy.

But an attempt to bring the issue into a more politically critical discussion, is of huge importance. As the title of the report suggests, " Sun in the Sky"- this issue is light and clear like the sun in the sky that we often take it for granted.However no solution for Afghanistan would be viable without addressing this dilemma with ISI.

While the rest is a known reality- the influence and participation of the ISI in the leadership of the Taliban is a new discussion in the report. Waldman says:
"Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani command council. Indeed, the agency appears to have circumscribed the Taliban’s strategic autonomy, precluding steps towards talks with the Afghan government through recent arrests."

The rest of the report continues to discuss the dynamics of the relationship of the Taliban movement with the ISI which is hierarchical, fearing, and of domination. It is understandable on the Taliban part as well to rely on the ISI support as they have been under fire in Afghanistan for all these years and the ISI have leveraged well on their vulnerability. This is an important component for any reconciliation arrangements that the external supports have to be seized for the insurgents. However, we in Afghanistan know it for sure, that if the Taliban movement is somehow subdued by the international forces and the Afghan government through their carrot and stick ( Re-integration and COIN) strategies, ISI will keep creating and recreating insurgencies for Afghanistan to secure their perceived national interest. As Waldman says:

"The Taliban-ISI relationship is founded on mutual benefit. The Taliban need external sanctuary, as well as military and logistical support to sustain their insurgency; the ISI believes that it needs a significant allied force in Afghanistan to maintain regional strength and ‘strategic depth’ in their rivalry with India.12 As a former Taliban minister put it: ‘The ISI are helping the Taliban a lot, but they only give for their own gain. There is a reciprocal issue: Kashmir. The root of the problem in Afghanistan is the Pakistan-India competition."

What is needed is to create assurances for ISI leadership that Afghanistan wont be anchoring any threats against Pakistan or will not allow India to use Afghanistan soil against Pakistan. While non-alignment is history now- we can not ignore the growing nuclear tensions in South Asia among India and Pakistan and the emerging threats from Iran as it goes nuclear. In such circumstances, what would be the the reactions and responses by Russia and China, time will tell us. But Afghanistan continues to bear the brunt of its geography.

( The report can be found :

Friday, June 11, 2010

Will the Afghan government's reintegration and reconciliation efforts bring peace to Afghanistan?

The West Asia Program is a launching a new series of occasional papers entitled ‘Afghan Voices’. The goal of this series is to inject a range of Afghan views into the discussion of issues surrounding the international community’s intervention in Afghanistan.

The series is edited by Dr Susanne Schmeidl, co-founder of TheLiaison Office (TLO) in Afghanistan. She has worked on Afghanistan since 2000 and managed the Swisspeace office in Kabul between 2002 and 2005.

In the first paper in the series, Wazhma Frogh examines, against the background of the recent ‘Peace Jirga’, the highly contentious issues of reintegration and reconciliation with the insurgency. She argues that unless the Afghan government enagages in a more comprehensive and sustainable effort to address the various cause of conflict in Afghanistan than it is currently undertaking, the prospects for a real and enduring peace and security will remain dim.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What does the resignation of two important men tell us about Afghan government?

The legacies of the Afghan Peace Jirga didn’t turn out to be peaceful. Just days after the Jirga Declaration, the Afghan government issued an abrupt decree to reopen and review the current Taliban prisoners cases of Taliban prisoners and its Minister of Interior and Chief of National Directorate of Security announced their resignations within the same day.

While both the officials explained the rationale for their resignation as dissatisfaction of the president on the lack of security arrangements during the Peace Jirga that allowed the militants to launch rocket attacks, and suicide bombing in close proximities of the Peace Jirga venue. But Afghan critics see the situation much more complex and different.

This is the first time in the past 9 years of the Afghan government to see such high profile officials resign over lack of effectiveness and responsiveness to the requirements of their jobs, especially when both men, are considered to be the most competent and qualified members of the cabinet. Even when the cabinet members were explicitly accused of corruption and misuse of their political influence and positions, none of them resigned.

Hanif Atmar, who has been the minister for Education, and twice the minister of Interior, with his NGO background, and a former military officer has been among the lead reformists in Afghanistan and his three times easy approvals in the parliament as well reflects his popularity among the Afghan parliament. Atmar has been seen as a potential rival toPresident Karzai in the past years and a member of the cabinet said, the president needed the post of Minister of Interior at this point and in one shot, he killed two birds.

Similarly, Amrullah Saleh, the Chief of Intelligence has been one of the few Northern Alliance members within the government, who was CIA trained and his strong back up of the Northern Alliance leaders wouldn’t allow the President to sideline him in any other way. Saleh has been a critique of the current system and spoke about the lack of political will to trace the militants operations back to Pakistani soil in the Afghan parliament. His speeches that are recorded in the parliament sessions, reflect lack of trust of the president on the information and intelligence that NDS provided, because the president looks at Saleh as a Panjsheri,Northern Alliance member, not his government's Intelligence Chief.

While their resignation is seemingly premised on the failures of the security measures during the Peace Jirga, but such an explanation is difficult to believe, especially since this was not the first instance of their failures to ensure safety and security of such a big gathering. In 2007, during the celebrations of the victory of Mujahidin day, there was a similar bombing that killed MPs and Jihadi leaders just when President Karzai was giving his opening Speech. Therefore, the celebrations were cancelled.

Amrullah Saleh in a press conference on the day of his resignation in Kabul also said there are many other internal and external reasons for his resignation but he didn’t give any further details.

However, those close to him say that there are other reasons for his resignation.He apparently expressed dissent and concerns with President’s plan to release the Taliban or militants leaders and declared them extremely dangerous for the stability of Afghanistan.

It is also said that in the last meeting ,the president was unpleasantly dubious of the information of attacks during the Jirga's first day. President Karzai seems to think that the Jirga's first day attack was a conspiracy of one of the Western powers and not the Taliban. Critics also believe that sideling Amrullah Saleh, who has been a hard line interrogator of the Taliban and militants prisoners, would please the militants and Taliban further. Saleh is now replaced by another Intelligence Chief Ibrahim Spinzada, a Kandahari and believed to be among the supporters of the Taliban groups, he has been involved in negotiations of the Taliban militants from Guantanamo jail as well.

A similar concern could be drawn from Atmar’s press conference from his tone and address to the enemies of Afghanistan. He said: “My position on enemies is solid and clear. Your (enemies) predatory attacks wont affect our determinations and you wont succeed because you are not legitimate”. These statements undermine and question the impunity and legitimacy that were granted to the militants and Taliban by withdrawing their names from blacklists and releasing their prisoners, during the Peace Jirga. In fact, the Jirga covered up the criminal and terrorist aspects of these militants insurgency that was evident in Atmar’s press conference but the Jirga called them merely political “angry brothers”.

The sudden decision of the Afghan government to review the cases of the Taliban prisoners and release them alarms on the fragile nature of the judiciary system that is not technically well equipped to undertake such a crucial inquiry. If notorious militants are released, they will create more serious threats to Afghanistan and international community. After all Mullah Zakir Qayyum is a recent example of such a release who is now the Chief Operating Officer of insurgency in Afghanistan. It is also said that the inquiry Commission for the release of Prisoners did not include NDS, which is a very crucial institution to determine the status of the prisoners captured as militants.

It seems that the Afghan government leadership has decided to come to terms with its armed militants at any cost. However, there is a growing fear and contention in Kabul, that such decisions to turn the government into a Taliban-friendly organization, will further antagonize the rest of the society against the government and increases the chances of another civil unrest among various ethnicities in the country. It is worth mentioning that it was only to topple down the Taliban government that the Northern Alliance joined hands with theOperation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, particularly after the assassination of theNorthern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Masood. The challenge for the Afghan government in the coming months and year is in reconciling these two opposing forces under its National Peace and Re-integration Program Plan without further diss-agregation of non-Taliban groups, that might ignite rifts and potential violence.

Paradoxically, while the international community is fighting a lethal war in Afghanistan and embarking on a furious operation in Kandahar, its partner, the Afghan government muddling along an internal political and governance crisis. Half of the cabinet’s fate is unknown for almost 7 months now and the parliament term is over in a month or so. In such a crisis, the president’s priorities seem to be pleasing the “angry brothers” whose own minister calls them as “enemies” but the larger brunt remains on the effectiveness of the ongoing counter-insurgency.

Monday, June 7, 2010

PEACE JIRGA BLOG 10: The Afghan Peace Jirga, where peace means politics

Civil society activist Wazhma Frogh reports on the outcome of the jirga and what this means for the men and women of Afghanistan, and for the prospects of peace and justice.

If there was a nationwide consultation in Afghanistan, there would not be anyone opposing the concept of Peace. Therefore, the main discussion is not about whether consensus was reached on peace in general, but on how to come to terms with peace and how to achieve it. The orchestrated show of this jirga was a way to legitimize the unjust means towards what is being claimed as peace.

On Wednesday when the Peace Jirga begun, there were mixed messages in the President’s opening speech and his words seemed more an advocacy campaign. His message to the 1600 delegates from 34 provinces of Afghanistan was full of emotional appeal. But in the evening of Friday, the president had a full plate of legitimacy, support and back up from some of the most powerful men in Afghanistan and that made him very confident. He didn’t see the need to lobby for more endorsement, so he remained very short in his concluding remarks and used the opportunity to once again call on the “angry brothers” to join the peace process, but this time with the voices of 1600 people who represented the entire country.

Maybe that was the invisible primary goal of this Peace Jirga, that was supported by the international allies of Afghanistan as well. An analysis of the men that ran the show during the past three days, represent a very familiar process that didn’t bring durable peace for Afghanistan. That process was the Bonn agreement and almost all the main actors of the Peace Jirga were present in that process with some major exceptions like Dr Abdullah Abdullah, General Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Mohaqiq and some others. That process failed because it didn’t include the Taliban and today’s Peace Jirga too excluded the current Taliban leaders, the former Taliban officials like Mullah Salaam, Mullah Zayeef, Mawlai Muttawakil and others. There were also concerns about the lack of participation of other ethnicities like Hazara’s and Uzbeks that constitute a fairly large segment of the population. Their involvement in peace processes becomes more pivotal as insurgency makes it way to the northern region.

If such a Jirga can be considered crucial in defining a national identity for Afghanistan and foundation for nation building, the excluded actors can present serious threats to the national unity of Afghanistan. In addition, the Peace Jirga went against the known practices of any traditional Jirga. In a typical Jirga, you find at least two opposing parties present, while in this Peace Jirga there was no opposition party to question or challenge what was being suggested and decided.

The patriarchal practices disarrayed the young population as well. During the working groups, they were either the note takers or were influenced under the tumultuous presence of the powerful men. This despite the fact that the youth constitute more than 50 % of our population and are actively involved in the insurgency activities, as a means of income or revenge for social injustices, or indoctrinated by hard-core insurgent ideologies.

The participants shaped the outcomes of the Conference, but many also questioned the process of the selection of the Leadership that took the charge of the Jirga for three days and that had the final say in drafting the declaration. They had been pre- selected by the Jirga Commission and included a woman as the administrative deputy.

The politics of inclusion and exclusion seemed very critical to the outcome of the Jirga. If opposition political leaders, parties and hard line activists had participated in the Jirga, the outcomes would have been much more diverse. In the second day of the Jirga, a colleague had a quick run through at least 15 working groups and his immediate response was “shocked”. He said “I have never seen such an unanimous agreement among Afghans in the past, but when I tried to find out who was speaking, it was only the powerful, either a governor, a government high official, a government-supporting MP, or a pro-government entrepreneur. And the rest listened.”

Same was the story for the last day of the Peace Jirga. After the presentations of all 28 working groups, which were uniquely similar to each other, the tent witnessed the same powerful men taking the stage and continuing their speeches. It would have seemed less dramatic, if at least one of speakers had been from the opposition.

The third day of the Jirga, once again rehashed the memories of the macabre violence of civil war in 1990s. The same faction leaders, who were fighting each other in close proximities in Kabul, were once again given the central command. The last day of the Jirga the speaking powers were granted to Jihadi leaders like Professor Burhanuddin Rabani and Professor Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaaf, who spoke about the glorious achievements of Jihad as the end of Communism in the world and also called on the government to restore the image of Jihadi leaders in Afghanistan.

The process shaped the outcomes. The 28 working committees came up with a 16-article declaration. A brief overview:

- The Peace Consultative Jirga concluded that Peace is the only remedy for the current crisis of Afghanistan and the Peace Jirga supports and appreciates the government’s initiatives in this regard. The Peace Jirga asks the government to create a comprehensive framework for re-integration and negotiations with the angry brothers.

- The government should establish a high Commission/Council for Peace to implement its Re-integration and Peace Plan with the composition of the same delegates that came to the Peace Jirga.

- The Peace Jirga called on the government and the international community to remove the names of Taliban leaders from the blacklists and urged the government and international community to release the Taliban and other militant prisoners who are held in Afghanistan or Guantanamo jails. However, the Jirga did note that those who are affiliated with the Al-Qaida network and are not Afghans are excluded from this peace process.

The Taliban has declared in many instances that they will not embark on peace talks if the international forces do not leave Afghanistan. This precondition was rejected by the President during the first day of the Jirga. He emphasized that they would not let the international forces to leave Afghanistan as long as the Taliban do not embrace peace processes. The Jirga endorsed the role and involvement of international community in Afghanistan and each of the working groups asked for the continuation of their support.

It was also interesting that the Peace Jirga bestowed decisive authorities to the government of Afghanistan. While, it was expected that the Jirga would create a framework for peace talks, the Jirga instead decided that the government should create and define such a framework for the re-integration and reconciliation with the militants and the Taliban.

New terminologies were coined. The Jirga in many instances noted that militants and the Taliban should not be called or referred to as Terrorists, but rather as the angry brothers of Afghans. Such blanket impunity will further add to what is being claimed as the legitimate allegiances of the armed militants: even though the militants continue to spread terror and kill Afghans, they will be still forgiven because they are the angry brothers. The Jirga also created an entirely political identity for the militants and the Taliban and ignored the criminal aspects of the ongoing insurgency.

The women of Afghanistan, who have more to lose than anyone in any of these unjust settings, were manipulated by giving them more seats to occupy in the Jirga. However, among the 28 committees, only one of them was led by a prominent woman MP, the rest of the committees had women as the note takers and deputies. During the three days, no plenary speech opportunity was offered to any woman to express women’s concerns and perspectives on what could happen if Taliban militants were incorporated in the government or on other social and political processes. However, at the end of the Jirga, a recommendation came from the leadership of the Jirga to send a group of Afghan women to the Taliban, as mothers and sister, to plea for the purposes of peace as part of the historical Pashtun practice called Nanawati. If these women are killed or harmed by the Taliban, then maybe that is only a small price of the unjust means towards what is being called as Peace. A woman among the delegates, who yelled many times before the President’s concluding remarks, was not allowed to speak, while the powerful men occupied the plenary speeches and were reading poems and giving Islamic law lectures.

As expected, the most important casualty of this traditional and patriarchal practice of Jirga was justice. Justice not in its abstract form that everyone read poems about, but justice in practical terms. There was no mention of the war crimes during the civil war, nor the injustices and violence inflicted on Afghan nation in the past 9 years.

PEACE JIRGA: First day

PEACE JIRGA (GUEST) BLOG 7: The first day of the peace jirga

Chevening Scholar (International Development Law and Human Rights) and civil society activist, Wazhma Frogh, reports on the first day of the Afghanistan Peace Jirga.

As expected, hundreds of turbaned and bearded men who have made very critical contributions to the current plight and misery of Afghanistan, arrived in the grand assembly tent of Kabul, a place with tremendous political symbolism. In the past 9 years many significant political struggles, from the Interim Grand Assembly to the Constitution Loya Jirga to the electoral campaigns took place in this tent, located at the polytechnic faculty of Kabul.

At the end of the first day of the long awaited Jirga, there are still questions about the ambiguity of the agenda, the lack of clarity on the government views pertaining to talks with the Taliban and other militants, and the (mis)representation of the various groups and parties.

The Jirga commenced with speeches, was interrupted by rockets and suicide attacks, and long hours of break, and resumed again at 3 pm with more speeches. The selected leaders at forefront of the Jirga proceedings had a press conference at the end of the day. None of them seemed to be fully aware of the objective and aim of the gathering and they had mainly struggled to establish a consensus among the participants that the Jirga should boost the sense of nationhood and national unity among Afghans.

The chief convenor of the Jirga, education minister Farqooq Wardak, and also President Hamid Karzai called the Jirga a consultative process to seek inputs and suggestions of Afghans on how to proceed with the peace talks. But it only complicates the already grim picture of the Afghanistan Peace and Re-integration Program (APRP) plan that was discussed in the Afghanistan London Conference and subsequently circulated around President Karzai’s Washington trip in May. The question is, if the government has already developed such a plan, then how important is this current debate or the Jirga in shaping those decisions that already earned millions of dollars in the London Conference.

In a more ideal situation, this process, even though barely representative, should have taken place before the London Conference and prior to the circulation of the Afghanistan Peace and Re-integration Program Plan if such exists. Therefore, many are skeptical that such a large gathering with the millions of dollars cost will have no significant outcome for Afghanistan.

A rapid look at the participants further undermines the hope of any outcome that would entail an end to the ongoing violence or even a step towards such a vision. The famous men who became the driving forces of the agenda and mandate of the Jirga, do not have any track record that can be linked to peace and security. They are the so called warlords and faction leaders that fought each other and ruined cities and killed Afghans during the civil war and today enjoy a superior status among the government and society with cruel impunity for their current and past injustices and war crimes. This impunity was evident in their special treatment in today's Jirga.

Many women among some 400, who constitute around 21 % of the Jirga participants, were enraged over the selection of these men to lead the Jirga and over the overall lack of active participation of women in the agenda and scope of the gathering. Although civil society groups and women's rights activists have been lobbying for inclusion of women's concerns and perspectives in the scope and agenda of the Jirga, today's proceedings didnt reflect women's concerns. The opening session was entirely occupied by men's speeches and there was almost no mention of the importance to secure women's achievements in the speeches of the leadership of the Jirga. The working groups were almost all led by men team leaders with women as administrative deputees.

Participation is not just about filling the empty seats, but also about being able to shape the discussions and agenda according to the needs and concerns of the Afghan women.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The first day of the Afghanistan Peace Jirga

After many delays and rescheduling, finally the Afghan Peace Consultative Jirga convened in Kabul today with around 16oo of representatives from across the country. They included government officials, religious leaders, civil society groups, women activists, the Jihadi faction leaders and members of the diplomatic enclave from neighboring and members of the international community. Representatives from Iran and Pakistan too were invited to participate in a three-day Jirga to shape the government's policy pertaining to the talks with the Taliban and other militants.

The Jirga had just began, and President Karzai was in the preliminary stages of his speech, that the sound of bombings and rockets created fear and terror among the participants. When the second rocket was heard, which was quiet near the tent, many of the participants stood up and wanted to flee, but the humourous motivations of the President, encouraged them to stay and continue. Some main points from the president's speech were:
President Hamid Karzai first established a more positive outlook of the Afghanistan's current situation and indicated the achievements in girls education, roads, economic gains specifically the Afghani currency's value in comparison to neighbors and the global presence of Afghanistan through its embassies, while there were only 3 during the Taliban regime.
He then brought up the most serious issues that according to him have implicated the peace processes and reconstruction of Afghanistan since 2001. He said that the approach of some of his government officials, and international forces rejauvenated the Taliban momentum. The unjust torture of Afghans under the names of Taliban and alqaida made the defeated Taliban pick up arms again and fight the government and its allies. He also quoted an interesting story of how the Taliban had presented him their submission/surrender letter just before the Bonn conference when he was in Shahwali Kott of Kandahar and how he returned the letter back to them.

The president called on the Taliban as " Urora, Aziza, Talib jana" ( brother, my dear, Talibjan) to accept the peace offer and lay down their arms and end the ongoing violence. In terms of the Taliban's precondition of the foreign troops withdrawal, he said for the past 30 years we had the presence of foreign forces in one or another form and we will not let them leave us until we dont stand on our own feet. He joked that maybe the Taliban and the international forces have something in common because we wont leave the international community before the Taliban join the government peace process. He was apologetic and very humble while calling on the Taliban to join the peace processes, called them 'naraz' and angry brothers. He concluded with the remarks that no matter what we decide at the end of this Jirga, we shouldnt forget the importance of our friendship with the international community and stressed on their role as well.

After President's Speech, the chief convenor of the Jirga, Dr Farooq Wardak invited Sebghatullah Mojadidi to take up the responsibility of leading the Jirga proceedings. Mojadidi too had a speech and during his speech there were sounds of firing and bombings nearby. But he too didnt take it seriously and laughed that 'we are used to this situation so we are not scared of it anymore'. His speech was about the role of Pakistan government in creation of the insurgency and insecurity in Afghanistan. He condemned killings of the international troops and even called it 'haram' and said that they are here to help us and we need to be hospitable towards them and protect them. He denied taking up the responsibility of leadership and simultaneously invited Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani to take up the lead of the Jirga. Then Farooq Wardak, again came and said that considering the shortage of time, we can not do any elections for the leadership members of the Jirga, so we selected them. They are Professor Rabbani as the Chief head, assisted by Qeyamuddin Kashaf ( deputy of Ulema Council) , Abdul Sattar Darzabi ( Jawzjan MP) and Jafar Mahdawi ( I guess to please the Hazara/shia sect) as well. Later on in their press conference, also announced Ms Najia Zewari to represent the women groups but as the administrative incharge of the leadership team.

After hours of lunch and prayer break, the participants resumed at 3 pm and started with the speech by Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaf, a current MP and a famous Jihadi leader. He spoke about the importance of Jirga from an Islamic perspective. Another speech before the working groups was by the appointed Chief of the leadership of the Jirga.Then the delegates started mobilizing in 28 working groups, around 50-60 people in each working groups. There were facilitators and team leaders for each working group already assigned by the Jirga Convening Commission, who almost shaped the working group discussions.

At 5 pm, the leadership members spoke to journalists in a press conference and they seemed quiet scattered on the overall aim and objective of the Jirga and focused on the themes of national unity instead of peace talks.

So the first day started with speeches, interrupted by rockets, resumed back with speeches and ended with speeches. Some notable men were missing from the luxurious front rows including Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the leader of the Opposition, Mohmmad Mohaqiq the Hizb-e-Wahdat leader and a fade presence of some regional powers like Noor Mohammad Atta, the Balkh governor.

On a funnier note, the men who exploded themselves outside the Jirga, were dressed in women's Burka. Maybe this is when we start asking for a national ban on the Burka, for the security reasons.

Afghan Peace Jirga: Another political drama

While millions of Afghans are starving of chronic food insecurity, thousands of children sleeping on the streets of Kabul every night, and millions living with the terror of insurgency and corruption, the Peace consultative Jirga will take place this week at the cost of millions of dollars aimed at improving the living conditions of Afghans. Around 1600 delegates arrived in the spacious Grand Assembly tent in Kabul and with over 300 women representatives. The Afghan government aims to solicit national support for its mysterious Re-integration and Reconciliation Plan introduced at the Afghanistan London Conference earlier this year. While the Jirga seeks national consensus and support from the Afghans, many on the streets see it as a ‘drama and show off’ only.

As the new elected government is in its 6th month, the fate of half of its cabinet is unknown. Or better to say that half of the government structure is dysfunctional. The concept of service provision has turned into merely a political agenda for the government. For example, when 100s of girls are poisoned in only three weeks in relatively calm provinces in their schools, the Education Ministry is busy in convening the political Peace Jirga as the Education Minister is the head of Jirga Commission.

The powerful men who have adequate contribution in the devastation of the country and are expected to provide solutions will lead the Jirga. The absence of the Taliban members and representatives resemble their absence from the Bonn process that created a flawed foundation for the interim government of Afghanistan. One of the female representatives from a northern province that arrived yesterday for the Jirga said, “ We are here to listen to the speeches and poems of older men and maybe a few well connected women. It’s a nice change to come to Kabul and enjoy the free rich food of the event for some days at least”.

However, the overarching question is about the outcomes of such a Jirga. If we are fighting a 21st century non-state enemy, can these traditional and patriarchal practices bring any hope? Particularly, when the Taliban movement is highly amalgamated with the external forces and al-Qaida.

Many Afghan critics believe that the event was delayed deliberately to occur at a time when sparks of unrest has broken out throughout the country. The event is to divert attention from those issues. One of those critical incidents have been the lethal dispute between the Kuchi’s (nomads) and villagers of two districts from Wardak province, that took lives of both sides and the unrest has turned into a long-term enmity among two ethnicities as the politicians have argued. An MP from Hazara ethnicity spoke on the condition of anonymity that Kuchi’s were paid dollars in cash to leave the area for the time being and come back after the Peace Jirga is over. If this is true, the next battle is going to be more furious as more weapons can be acquired with those dollars paid to the Kuchi’s.

Until and unless we do not have a strong and responsive central government in Afghanistan, such Jirga’s only remain an event to enjoy food and utopian speeches, at the expense of foreign taxpayers dollars. It would have been more useful if Afghanistan adapts a more cohesive and strategic regional diplomacy with its neighbors that are being accused of contributing to the insurgency and militancy, as claimed by General MacCrystal as well.