Afghans Not 'Very Hopeful' for Kabul Peace Jirga

Officials in the Afghan capital claim they have completed all necessary arrangements and have taken all security measures for the twice-delayed three-day advisory Peace Jirga, officially named as "Afghanistan's National Consultative Peace Jirga," scheduled for June 2, to be held successfully.

However, most Afghans interviewed by this scribe did not believe this effort would bring any positive changes with regard to the the current situation in the conflict-ridden country.

About 1,600 Afghans representing different parts and institutions of the country and 300 guests are expected to participate in the jirga, Gul Agha Ahmadi, the official spokesman of the government-led council said. He added:

The goals set for this grand meeting include 1) asking representatives of the Afghan society to present their views on the peace process; 2) to know their opinions about which groups of insurgents should be reached out for reconciliation; and 3) what mechanisms should be adopted to achieve these goals.

Initially, some expected segments of insurgent groups might be invited to the jirga for consultations, but presidential spokesman Waheed Omar ruled out this possibility and told a press conference early this month that no insurgent groups were invited. But, he said, the government will welcome any group that chooses to participate.

Among the participants, according to Mr. Ahmadi, a jirga spokesman, are members of the Masharano Jirga (the Senate), representatives of provincial councils, governors of all 34 provinces, representatives of Ulema councils, former members of the Masharano Jirga, representatives of women organizations, district chiefs, representatives of Kuchis (the nomad Afghan tribe), representatives of civil society organizations and representatives of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

"All of these people are either part of the government or support the government," said Mohammad Jan, a Kabul University graduate. The local people know them only as corrupt officials. They are not representatives of the people, and I don't think they will bring any change. I am not very hopeful," he explained.

On the same lines, Khairullah Fazli, a defense lawyer in Kabul questioned the Afghan government's capability, capacity, and sincerity in reconciling with the anti-government elements:

There are only two ways to change the situation in Afghanistan: the government is strong and stable enough to establish its authority in the provinces and deal with the insurgents or the international community force Pakistan, Iran and other regional powers to stop supporting terrorism.

He further commented that if that is not going to happen, and the Afghan government currently does not have the capacity of doing that, it would be better for the government to focus on issues that it has control over. He explained, "The government should do something against corruption and also should improve its governance in the provinces. That is something the government can do if it wants."

Even before the London Conference on Afghanistan was held this January, the Afghan government had been developing a mechanism to reconcile with the top leadership of the Taliban and reintegrate low level foot soldiers in the Afghan society. After that a delegation of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami met with Afghan officials in Kabul and a meeting also recently took place in the Maldives regarding these efforts.

But experts think there is still no significant progress towards the issue of reconciliation. According to Saifullah Ahmadzai, a Kabul-based research analyst who works on the informal government system in Afghanistan:

President Karzai just wants to show the world that he is making efforts for peace in the country. But it is not possible to bring peace by gathering government officials in Kabul for three days. There are many questions that need to be addressed first.

These issues, according to Mr. Ahmadzai, include improving the government system to such an extent that the Afghan people accept it. "If the government is so corrupt as it is now, people will prefer the Taliban over government officials. And as long as people don't support the government, the insurgency problem will grow more and get stronger," he further opined.

It is important to mention that both the insurgent groups - the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami - as well as President Karzai's challenger in the last presidential election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have explicitly said that they will not participate in the jirga.

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