The South Asia Channel

Why Afghanistan's Jirga Will Fail

The Peace Jirga that began today in Kabul, will fail its declared main aim: To establish a real national consensus on talks with the Taliban. There are too many relevant political forces  absent -- and those who are in attendence are massively monitored and manipulated. The jirga does not bring an end -- or at least a reduction -- of violence closer.

This was echoed by the rockets that exploded next to the tent this morning -- the closest one reportedly only one hundred meters away -- during President Karzai's speech. He first told the delegates not worry, but then apparently left the venue himself. The jirga has again resumed its work and but it is unclear whether Karzai plans to continue attending.

On the surface, the jirga with its 1,600 delegates bears all insignia of Afghan tribal ‘democracy' which, although, is male-dominated. (The women were only able to push through their 20 per cent attendance quota after Western diplomats intervened -- another example of "foreign interference," so often blasted by Karzai.) Bearded and turbaned men from all corners of the country provide a blaze of color that is supposed to create the impression of plurality that does not exist in reality. The delegates are rather handpicked. The main opposition party is absent and also some women rights activists boycott the jirga which they consider part of a Karzai legitimisation machine. They fear that burning issues like ‚justice, i.e dealing with the civil war crimes, and human rights might be sacrificed for a deal with the Taliban. This shows if a pseudo-consensus is pushed through, only new conflicts will emerge.

That should make Karzai's NATO allies think. But they are talking, in a very self-assured tone, about "red lines" that must be kept and that, first of all, the constitution must not be compromised. But it were they -- together with the president -- who have treated it as waste paper too often in the "peace process" so that it is difficult to fully believe in such assurances. And what is all the talk about the "most basic" human rights that need to be preserved?

Facing a general perplexity when it comes to Afghanistan, the Western governments are all too ready to be duped by Karzai's big shows -- be they elections or jirgas. Karzai taking the lead is a prerequisite for exiting the Afghan quagmire into which they have helped to manoeuvre the country themselves. Where Karzai is leading to -- and what really is stirring in the big jirga pot -- seems to be of secondary concern under these circumstances. The reaction of the West will show whether Karzai again can mingle through with his façade democracy.

Thomas Ruttig is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally posted. He speaks Pashtu and Dari.

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