Viewpoint: What to expect from the Afghan jirga

Taliban militants join the Afghan government's reconciliation and reintegration programme Many feel providing incentives to renounce violence is an unsustainable strategy

Afghanistan is preparing to hold a peace jirga - or tribal assembly - at which the government hopes to build national consensus and create a road map towards ending the insurgency and fostering reconciliation. Civil society activist Wazhma Frogh examines the situation.

Traditionally, jirgas have served as a mechanism for resolving communal and tribal conflicts in Afghanistan.

Jirga decisions are often binding and forced. They are not always guaranteed to be just or fair.

Furthermore, jirga representatives are often notables and local power-holders who may see fit to impose their will on the public, rather than represent the public's desires.

The outcomes of previous jirgas might tempt us to hope that this one could put an end to the violence. However, the reality is much more complex.

Afghan security officer walks past the wreckage of a bombed car

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As the jirga draws near, the realities on the ground continue to be violent”

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We hear various arguments against the government's reintegration plan.

One of the only known components of the plan is the provision of incentives for the insurgents to renounce violence.

Many claim that it's an unsustainable strategy and will further antagonise the country's young majority who feel deprived of the development and security initiatives of the international community and the Afghan government.

Women's rights activists and civil society groups raise their concerns, over the issue of justice for human rights violations of the militants and insurgents, that such a blank offer of amnesty will not bring enduring peace to Afghanistan.

Many critics believe that the Taliban leadership or forces will not participate in the jirga.

However, there is reason for possible optimism in this regard. The recent arrest of leading Taliban commanders in Pakistan has troubled the militants' relationship with the Pakistani intelligence services.

The peace jirga might be a golden opportunity for the Afghan Taliban leadership to withdraw their affiliation from the Pakistani intelligence and become part of the political and national processes in Afghanistan.

'Vulnerable' elders

The risk otherwise is that the jirga may be a one-sided interaction of those in power with vulnerable Afghan elders.

The elders will be asked to help with the peace process, but some face being killed upon their return to their villages and some will not even try to attend the jirga due to fear of local militants and insurgents.

This risk is more likely to materialise in relation to elders from the south and south-eastern provinces, the focus of current violence.

It is wrong to have high expectations for the peace jirga.

It may serve as a step towards stabilising Afghanistan, but such an expectation should be sobered by a realisation that as the jirga draws near, the realities on the ground continue to be violent.

If the Taliban movement was national, independent and based on Afghan patriotic sentiments, such a jirga might be more sensible and productive, because the elders would have been able to bring along their angry and fighting sons.

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The time has come for the Afghan government to talk seriously with the Pakistani military and the intelligence services that have been the fathers of the Taliban movement and insurgency”

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In this case, they would have been able to prevent them from creating more violence in Afghan communities.

But it is undeniable that much of the violence in Afghanistan is caused by an exported insurgency, one that is created and sustained by Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan, despite repeated denials from Islamabad.

The time has come for the Afghan government to talk seriously with the Pakistani military and the intelligence services that have been the fathers of the Taliban movement and insurgency.

Pakistan will continue making and remaking insurgency for Afghanistan as long as it takes, if the Pakistani establishment continues to believe that its survival and security interests are at stake in Afghanistan.

The time has come for a regional pact between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

'No threat'

Pakistan does not want an Afghanistan that flourishes economically or politically.

Pakistan's intelligence and military wrongly perceive that a strong Afghan state may question the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.

We need to assure Pakistan that if they stop creating more insurgency for Afghanistan, Afghanistan will not be a threat to Pakistan's territorial sovereignty and India and other actors will not be allowed to use Afghan land for any activities against Pakistan.

This assurance needs to be negotiated with the Pakistan army and intelligence; and success in these negotiations may bear more fruit than any national reconciliation or re-integration plan.

Are you in Afghanistan? What do you hope the jirga will achieve? Are you taking part in the jirga? Send us your comments, pictures and videos.

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