Pak-Afghan jirga unlikely to produce results

Pak-Afghan jirga unlikely to produce results
News Analysis by By Ismail Khan, Dawn, August 8, 2007

DESPITE the optimism expressed on Monday by US President George W. Bush and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai regarding the likely outcome of the Pak-Afghan jirga, to be convened in Kabul on Thursday, not many appear to be as confident.

Clearly, there is a great deal of optimism in Washington about the joint jirga proposed by Pakistan at an iftar-dinner hosted by President Bush at the White House for President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai on September 27 last year.

In Mr Bush’s words, the joint jirga would discuss “reconciliation” and how Pakistan and Afghanistan “can work together to achieve common solutions to problems.”

And according to the statement made by Mr Bush at his press conference with Mr Karzai at Camp David on Monday, “the main problem is to fight extremism, to recognise that history has called us into action.”

When Pakistan and Afghanistan began exchanging what in diplomatic parlance is called a non-paper in November last year through the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), the stated goal of the joint jirga was to generate structured discussions and reach decisions “to end terrorism as a major factor fuelling insecurity in the region.”

So, when the jirga does meet at Kabul’s Bagh-i-Bala on Thursday, the main question before the hundreds of delegates from Pakistan and Afghanistan would be: whether the participants would be able to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of millions of people living on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border?

From the Afghan perspective, they have done their homework and are obviously looking forward to an event that they believe could prove instrumental in restoring peace in their country ravaged by decades of war and internecine fighting.

But given the state of decades of mistrust and suspicion of each other’s actions, the Afghans wonder why Pakistan did not agree to the UN supervision of the joint jirga.

There are also doubts about the effectiveness and influence of the jirga constituted by Pakistan in delivering on its stated goals.

The Pakistanis have their own misgivings. There is a perception that Afghanistan would use the jirga platform to heap blame on Pakistan for all the ills afflicting Afghanistan.

And if briefings given to jirga members are anything to go by, the main thrust is on how to “forcefully counter” and defend Pakistan, should their Afghan counterparts decide to indulge in the so-called blame-game.

Pakistan on its part had its own reservation over the composition of the Afghan jirga incorporating the ethnic groups affected by the “Taliban insurgency”.

In order to defend itself against accusation from Kabul of fuelling the “Taliban insurgency”, Islamabad has adopted the stance that much of the extremism and terrorism that has come to haunt Pakistan is solely due to the situation in Afghanistan.

But beyond the composition and suspicions rankling on both sides, there are other critical questions that beg an explanation.

From pure tribal perspective: what would be the mandate of such an assembly? Will the jirga have the requisite authority, or ‘waak’ as it is called in Pashto, to decide on matters between conflicting parties?

A jirga is supposed to comprise neutral people, respected by and acceptable to all parties in a conflict, whose verdict is deemed final and binding on all sides.

To be sure, the Taliban have already announced their opposition to the jirga, questioning its representative status and its effectiveness in forming an independent opinion.

Some key figures of the Pakistan government have now been openly suggesting talks with the Taliban as a way out of the violence plaguing Afghanistan, much to Kabul’s indignation which considers the insurgents as terrorists.

So, will the jirga have the mandate to include or hold talks with the Afghan Taliban and whether it will have the authority to take decisions that would be acceptable to all sides, including Mr Karzai’s principal backers in Washington?

From Pakistan’s standpoint, it already has suffered a setback following decision by tribal parliamentarians, particularly by tribal elders from the restive North and South Waziristan agencies, to stay away from the jirga.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman — whose JUI (F) is widely considered to wield much influence over the Taliban — has also announced that he is not going.

Does Islamabad have any leverage to make good on any decisions to be taken by the Kabul jirga in these circumstances?

Clearly, while Pakistan seems to have done much paper work, there was little or no effort in doing practical ground work in terms of finding the right people with past experience in jirgas and carrying out the consultative process with tribal elders, whose tribes not only live across the Durand Line but also have been affected by the “Taliban insurgency”.

What is more interesting is the way Pakistan structured its jirga by dividing them into seven committees, headed by governors of the NWFP and Balochistan, Federal ministers Ghazi Gulab Jamal and Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind, Sahibzada Imtiaz, Abdul Malik Kansi and Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani.

It is not clear whether Afghanistan too has modelled its jirga along these lines, but if history is anything to learn from jirgas have never been formed and operated in this fashion.

Analysts warn that the Pak-Afghan jirga runs the risk of turning into a road-show or a kind of a seminar that would generate debate and discussion but may produce little or no results to help restore peace to war-torn Afghanistan.

In the words of one analyst, the joint jirga may produce a non-binding resolution or a declaration but it may not be able to deliver a verdict that would be binding on all sides to the conflict.

The Pak-Afghan jirga has generated anxiety as well as hopes about peace in the region, but as President Karzai noted in his joint press conference with President Bush in Camp David, its result would be seen on August 9.

Also See, Pakistan Leader forgoes Afghan Summit, Financial Times

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