In Search of Peace

By: Dr. G. Rauf Roashan

Abstract: The Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul was a daring undertaking by the government of Afghanistan. Its resolution was praised by the United Nations as well as the US government. As is the case in similar situations, some have shown pessimism as to the effectiveness of the Jirga. Many however believe that if the government plays its cards effectively following the path laid down by it and shared with the Jirga, there might be some hope.

President Karzai of Afghanistan emboldened by the support from the last London Conference and his latest visit to Washington D.C. and London was able to conduct the Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul last week. Apparently, committees, conferences, assemblies and commissions take the burden off the shoulders of the leaders and save them from acceptance of direct responsibility for dealing with complex national issues. The Consultative Peace Jirga, a traditional Afghan mechanism of getting the public involved in decision making, was therefore used as a tool by the Afghan president. He had received green lights from his international supporters and had been able to lay out a well thought plan for reconciliation of the illusive Taleban leaders and ranks and files of insurgency, provided they recognized the Afghan Constitution and lay down their arms.

Under a dangerous security breach by Taleban who fired two rockets close to the site of the Jirga and engaged in a gun battle with the government security forces, President Karzai was able to open the 1600- delegate conference under a huge marquee at the Kabul Polytechnic Institute. Because the delegates were appointed by the government and the agenda was prepared by the government the Jirga rather easily was led to approve of the idea of conducting peace negotiations with the insurgency. The Jirga however drove the notion forward that no preconditions should be set for the talks with the Taleban and the insurgent groups. It is obvious that the Taleban in this case consists of the illusive leader of the movement, Mullah Omar and his close associates, now underground in Pakistan and the insurgency refers mostly to Gulbuddin Hikmatyar the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, also presently underground. While the Hizb leader had shown some degree of flexibility of accepting the need for negotiation with the government and had deputed a delegation to conduct talks with the Karzai administration-talks that ended up inconclusively, yet he too had laid the condition for these talks to be the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The Jirga approved President Karzai’s proposal that talks about some concessions to the Taleban and the insurgency such as removing the names of some of these elements from the black list of the United Nations, and even providing exile for them in some friendly country. Wishful thinking on the side of the government also envisages a situation whereby the Taleban foot soldiers lay down their arms and join the government in exchange for jobs, income and government postings.

It is obvious that Hikmatyar is not getting any younger. He seems to be tired. His great ego is not only not been satisfied, but has been squished because of the many years of living in hiding and an offer to give him freedom should seem attractive to him. Yet, it is also obvious that he may think that the most recent move by the government shows its desperation with the continuation of life under the constant threat of violence by the violent elements of Taleban and the insurgency and therefore, he may not easily accept the offer of the olive branch. He may want the olive itself as was evident from the talks held by his delegation who talked of the establishment of a government of reconciliation where Hikmatyar will have a prominent role. 

As to Mullah Omar, it is to be said that if a person’s past deeds could be used as a litmus to foretell his future conduct, we all known his stubborn persistence in keeping his ties with Al-Qaeda, his medieval stand when the world at large appealed to him for sparing the destruction of the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan when he led the rather reactionary regime of Taleban in Afghanistan before its downfall as a result of the US military intervention.

President Karzai has rather wisely taken the first steps after the conclusion of the Jirga to decree an investigation of the situation regarding Taleban who are in Afghan government prisons. He wants those elements of the Taleban the case against whom are shaky and unproven to be released as a gist of goodwill.

It is important to note that Mr. Abdullah, who has placed himself at the helm of the government’s opposition, refrained from participation and announced that the resolution of the Jirga cannot be binding. This gives rise to the question of whether he is interested in peace and if so what would his formula be?

But the world is watching and waiting. The highly jubilant mood of the Afghan government after the Consultative Jirga needs to be kept up by action. Resolutions on paper alone do not solve the problems of nations. The Afghan government must take more serious steps, based on the support the 1600-delegate conference has given it, to make the nation understand that the constitutional government of Afghanistan is the best alternative to the fear mongering Taleban. It must convince the population at large that Taleban violence is by no means an Islamic act. It must further convince the ranks and files of the Taleban that violence and killing of the innocent citizens of the country are not the way to go and that these will have consequence to the perpetrators both now and in the hereafter. But all of this is easily said than done. That is why President Karzai’s plan of talks with Taleban leaders gains more importance.  Such talks would require high degree of diplomacy, tack and candor.

On the home front a mass education program as well as establishment of an all inclusive educational machinery by the government showing the destruction caused by Taleban and insurgency’s acts of violence such as burned schools, murdered innocent children and women, and the harms of spreading the reign of terror among peace loving civilians in cities, towns and villages is a dire need. There is no doubting the fact that a radio station alone can more easily conquer the minds of the people than any number of squadrons of tanks.  Give this the additional support of new technology in mass media of communication and you will be able to reach the minds of your audiences more readily provided your talks for the social wellbeing is coupled with economic development and socially inclusive projects. Furthermore, a government that is trustworthy is a government that deals effectively with corrupt officials and individuals and proves that it does not allow parallel systems of governance or sharing of power with warlords. 

Only based on a well-thought plan of action and winning the trust of the nation, the government in Afghanistan would be able to find a way to achieve that illusive peace that is direly needed by the Afghan nation. June 6, 2010.