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.