Afghan jirga: Positive Trajectory
but Outcome Uncertain
Afghanistan held the much talked about “Peace jirga” from 2-4 June, the aim was to discuss and finalize ways and means to open negotiations with the Taliban. The first day saw rocket attacks near the jirga venue but Afghan leaders were unperturbed and continued with their deliberations stoically. The strategy for peace talks with moderate Taliban fighters and other insurgent groups was discussed. As expected there was a call for removal of names of Taliban leaders from various anti-terror blacklists and no preconditions for talks, release of prisoners and a timetable for US-led troops to withdraw, aspects which the international community will find difficult to accede and thus the overall outcome may be uncertain.
There is also likely to be some, "political accommodation" with fighters who sever links with al Qaeda and could see the top ranks exiled to "a third country." Saudi Arabia is also likely to help with "de-radicalization programs." to lower level insurgents.
Reintegration of the Taliban foot soldiers is proposed in the society after an initial 90-day cooling-off period. The fighters will have to vow not to combat the government, and disown al-Qaida.
A biometric profile, including fingerprints and iris scans will then be created. Vocational training will be offered including trades such as tailoring and electrical repairs. A large number of manual jobs in construction and agriculture are already available in addition some may join the local police force or the army. The focus of the program is likely to be in the main provinces and cities across the country to include, Kandahar, Helmand, Herat, Baghdis, Nangarhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan which will affect 220 districts and around 4,000 villages. The key leaders on the other hand will benefit by being removed from the UN terror watch list as indicated by the Guardian a newspaper from London which seems to have had access to some of key documents.
Meanwhile thirteen members of Afghanistan’s parliament, including Afghan parliament member Ubaid Ullah Achackzat, an Afghan governor “and a variety of political parties and armed groups” held a second meeting in the Maldives with representatives of the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar led Hizb e Islami. A group of Afghan MPs, “a government official” and seven people linked to the Taliban had met in the Maldives earlier in third week of January 2010. Almayoun Jarir, son in law of former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar arranged the talks. Among the parliamentarians present was Arsala Rahmani, a former minister of higher education in the Taliban government who has worked on bringing Taliban members to the government’s side. Another parliamentarian, Khalid Farooqi, is a former member of Mr. Hekmatyar’s party.
Maldives President’s spokesman, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed that the peace talks had taken place and all involved in the talks had valid passports and visas and none of the representatives were listed in UN or other international travel blacklists. The US and NATO were not represented at the talks and Afghan government had not officially endorsed them. Some of the issues discussed are said to be need for fresh elections and future of foreign troops in the country. Maldives is one of the few countries to provide Afghan nationals a visa on arrival.
The Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Program is indeed ambitious for getting almost 10,000 plus rebels to join the mainstream is challenging but in a counter militancy campaign this is one way to reduce the numbers and level of resistance and while it is not expected that there would be mass surrenders but the trickle in the beginning may soon become a flood. However patience is required for those who surrender will also be under watch by others who have not and process of smooth integration would determine if they are willing to join. This is a chain reaction with interruptions as the hard core will surely attempt to dissuade mass migration.
Tribal pressure would be one factor to lure more fighters to give up and to that extent the jirga will play an important role. What is most important is however fixing a time frame, while the Americans would fix a time of say a couple of years, the process will be a long one and that is the key uncertainty.
The meeting between the HEI faction and some Afghan leaders is being projected as a private endeavor just as many such gatherings generally are till they succeed for that would avoid an embarrassment of a let down for both the sides. What is now being speculated is who initiated the talks some reports indicating role of Iran. Knowing Iran’s penchant for out of the box diplomacy and also Mr Hekmatyar’s links with the Iranian government in the past, this possibility cannot be ruled out.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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