Monday, June 7, 2010

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.

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