Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Peace Jirga Scepticism

Critics say that participants are too close to the government and do not represent wider Afghan society.
By Habiburrahman Ibrahimi
  • The first of the post-Taleban national jirgas was held in 2002, electing Hamid Karzai president. (Photo: US State Department)
    The first of the post-Taleban national jirgas was held in 2002, electing Hamid Karzai president. (Photo: US State Department)

Expectations are low for this week’s consultative peace jirga, with complaints that the assembly will be dominated by those with government connections.

Nearly 1,600 representatives will participate in the three-day jirga in Kabul, a traditional council held as a way of resolving disputes or reaching consensus on divisive issues.

The aim of the meeting, which begins on June 2, is to discuss the possibility of opening talks with insurgent groups and the gathering is supposed to represent the country’s ethnic and religious mix.

Delegates will include all members of the national assembly, cabinet members, supreme court chiefs and some provincial council members, alongside one tribal elder from each district, the governors of all 34 provinces and the religious scholars' council.

Civil society representatives include delegates from minority groups and women’s rights activists.

Ambassadors of the countries with embassies in Afghanistan and 170 foreign guests will attend the inauguration and conclusion ceremonies.

But there has been much criticism about the participation of so many authority figures in the event, at the expense of grass-roots representatives.

Fazlorrahman Orya, a Kabul journalist who specialises in political affairs, said, “The ones who will be invited to the jirga are either government employees, or those who are in one way or the other involved with the government.

“Real representatives of the Afghan people will not participate in the jirga. Therefore, it will be futile."

He added that the jirga would have no integrity and the government would be unable to implement any decisions it made.

"The jirga is not worth its cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars as its result will be less than zero," he said.

The deputy head of the money changers' union, Wejdan, said the officials taking part in the jirga have already had eight years to solve the country’s problems.

"Whether the jirga is consultative or decision-making, it should have been independent and real representatives of the people should have been invited to it," he said.

But a tribal elder from Wardag province, who declined to be named, said that even if more genuine local representatives were invited to attend the event, they’d be taking a risk.

He said that a tribal elder and the head of the people's council in Chak District, Hajji Zaher, was killed by unknown armed men in Ala Sang village while he was returning from Kabul some weeks ago. "We know that if we go to the jirga, we will face the same treatment," he said.

In response to the criticism about participants, jirga spokesman Golagha Ahmadi Wardag said, “I admit there are government officials in the jirga, but there are also village elders from the provinces and districts. Government officials and ordinary people will join together.”

Critics also say that since the insurgents do not recognise the jirga process, there can be little progress.

The Taleban, Hezb-i-Islami and the Haqqani network - the three main forces fighting international troops in Afghanistan – will not be part of the meeting.

“The opposition will not be invited to the jirga at all,” said Dr Faruq Wardag, the minister of education who is heading the preparation committee. The jirga will debate the mechanism of negotiation with the opposition and then they will be contacted.”

Sediqollah Tawhidi, director of Media Watch, a journalist advocacy group, said there’s little point to the jirga because the opposition has already made its position clear.

"The opposition have already given their condition, which is withdrawal of the foreign forces, so why is government going to consult with its friends about reconciliation with the oppositions?"

Zabihullah Mojahed, a spokesman for the Taleban, told IWPR in a telephone interview, "Holding a jirga in the presence of the Americans is meaningless. This is a drama of the foreigners performed by the Kabul administration and watched by them."

Following the collapse of the Taleban regime in 2001, an emergency loya jirga was held in 2002 in which President Hamed Karzai and cabinet ministers were appointed. At the next jirga, held in 2003, the country’s constitution was approved.

The third was the regional security jirga in 2007 organised by Afghanistan and Pakistan for promoting stability in the region, which ended inconclusively.

While most observers are sceptical about the latest meeting’s prospects, some feel it’s a step in the right direction. Political scientist Wahid Mojda said the jirga might provide a good platform for dialogue.

"This is a good opportunity for the government and people’s representatives to take effective steps for ensuring peace in the country,” he said.

But members of the public tend to share the predominant scepticism. Mohebollah, a shopkeeper in the Mandawi area of Kabul, said, "These are dramas staged by Karzai. If the government really wanted to negotiate and reconcile with the opposition through jirgas, it would have done it during the past eight years."

Habiburrahman Ibrahimi is an IWPR trainee in Kabul.