COMMENTARY
 
Prospects of Pak-Afghan Peace Jirga
Weekly Pulse
August 17-23, 2007
It was on a dinner table at the White House in September 2006 that President Pervez Musharraf had floated the idea of holding an Afghan-Pak joint peace jirga for combating terrorism and avoiding recurrent tensions in ties between the two countries. The idea was supported by US President George Bush. President Hamid Karzai, who at the time was critical of Pakistan on the Taliban infiltration issue, had accepted the idea only reluctantly.

Almost a year later, when this 700-member jirga was finally held from 9 to 12 August, it was the Afghan leader who had to seek American help to convince President Musharraf to attend its concluding session. The Pakistani leader was reportedly unhappy with Mr Karzai, who, even after the White House dinner meeting, did not spare any opportunity in casting aspersions on Pakistan’s intention in the US-sponsored war on terror.

That is why, instead of inaugurating the jirga jointing with President Karzai, President Musharraf sent Prime Minister Prime Shaukat Aziz to Kabul. However, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to President Musharraf on phone while the jirga was going on in the Afghan capital, he decided to attend its concluding session. During his speech there, he said what he wanted to say.

Musharraf’s Remarks

President Musharraf, in fact, was quite vocal in his remarks favourable to Taliban and critical of Afghanistan’s role in causing Talibanisation in Pakistan. Either it was because of the traditional Afghan hospitality or due to his weakening political position in Afghanistan, Mr Karzai did not raise issues critical of Pakistan which he is quite apt at. Instead, he talked about the common role the two countries can play to combat extremism and terrorism.

During his speech, President Musharraf articulated what Pakistan’s position on handling extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan and its own tribal belt has been for the past few years. The Taliban, Musharraf said, were extremists and part of the Afghan society, and, therefore, they had to be distinguished from foreign terrorists,” which could be al Qaeda, Uzbeks or others. In the past few years, the Pakistani leader has drawn an important distinction between terrorists, who must be defeated by force in the short run, and extremists, who have to be won over through a long-term “hearts and minds” campaign.

Therefore, what he meant by calling Taliban only extremists and part of the Afghan society was that the Afghan authorities should negotiate with the Taliban, and that the use of force option in the war on terrorism should be applied only to non-Afghan terrorists operating in the country or Pakistan’s tribal regions.

Another point President Musharraf stressed was to hold Afghanistan responsible for Talibanisation and extremism in Pakistan’s tribal regions. This was directly the opposite of Mr Karzai’s argument that the insurgency in Afghanistan was being caused by Taliban regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal regions and their consequent infiltration across the Durand Line into Afghanistan.

Joint Declaration

The Pak-Afghan jirga has issued of the six-point Joint Declaration. First, the Jirga recognised the fact that “terrorism is a common threat to both countries and the war on terror should continue to be an integral part of the national policies and security strategies of both countries.” Jirga participants unanimously declared their commitment to “an extended, tireless and persistent campaign against terrorism” and further pledged that “the government and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not allow sanctuaries/training centres for terrorists in their respective countries.”

Second, the Jirga resolved to constitute a smaller Jirga consisting of 25 prominent members from each side “that is mandated to strive to achieve the following objectives: a) Expedite the ongoing process of dialogue for peace and reconciliation with opposition; b) Holding of regular meetings in order to monitor and oversee the implementation of the decisions/recommendations of the Joint Peace Jirga; c) Plan and facilitate convening of the next Joint Peace Jirgas; and d) Both countries will appoint 25 members each in the committee.

Third, the Jirga emphasised the “vital importance of brotherly relations in pursuance of policies of mutual respect, non-interference and peaceful coexistence and recommends further expansion of economic, social, and cultural relations between the two countries.”

Fourth, while taking cognisance of the nexus between narcotics and terrorism, the Jirga members condemned “the cultivation, processing and trafficking of poppy and other illicit substances and call upon the two governments to wage an all out war against this menace.”

Fifth, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to “implement infrastructure, economic and social sector projects in the affected areas”, with the support of the international community.

Finally, the Jirga decided to implement the comprehensive and important recommendations made by its five working committees, in areas of social and economic developmental projects, people-to-people contacts, political ties between the two countries and various issues pertaining to their joint fight against terrorism.

As clear from the Joint Declaration, perhaps the most important outcome of the Jirga has been the creation of a mini-jirga for dialogue with groups of militants, including the Taliban. The declaration also said that the sides would avoid hostile statements against each other, and that they would exchange anti-terrorism intelligence. While calling terrorism a common threat, both countries’ leaderships have pledged not to allow the existence of terrorist sanctuaries and training camps on their soils. The two sides agreed the war on terror should continue to be an integral part of the national policies and security strategies of both countries.

Hopes from the Jirga

However, it is true that participants of the Jirga were hand picked by the Afghan and Pakistani governments and lacked representatives from the Pashtuns who fight Afghan and coalition forces, and support the Taliban and al-Qaeda. No surprise that, during the Jirga, the majority of speakers from both sides defended the official position of their respective governments in the blame-game that has been going on between the two countries for the past few years.

The absence of Taliban or pro-Taliban representatives from the tribal Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Jirga surely reduces its legitimacy or political value. It would have been better if we had the tribal clerics from North and South Waziristan, with whom the Musharraf regime has concluded peace accords in the past, sitting in the grand Jirga, with some of them becoming a part of the 50-member mini jirga.

But, then again, we have to be realistic. In the aftermath of the Lal Mosque Operation, the country’s security forces have been experiencing an unexpected extremist backlash, in which many more soldiers and policemen have been killed than the number of extremists who reportedly died in the said operation. In such circumstances, how can we expect the religiously radical tribal chieftains from South and North Waziristan, or, for that matter, the entire tribal belt, to participate in the joint jirga on Pakistan’s behalf?

What we can hope at this stage is that, perhaps, over time, terrorist manifestation of extremism in Pakistan’s tribal belt will decline, and, with that, it would be possible to extent the membership of the grand jirga or its mini form to include tribal elders from strife-torn areas such as North and South Waziristan. The same applies to Afghanistan, where the government of Hamid Karzai, unlike its Pakistani counterpart, has not shown any willingness to conclude a peace accord with Taliban insurgents.

If the Afghan leaders have listened to Pakistani leadership’s advice carefully, then this platform of mini jirga can act as an institutionalised forum to initiate a peace dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan and their compatriots in Pakistan’s tribal belt. This Jirga not only enjoys legitimacy from the two respective states and their international supporters in counter-terrorism, primarily the United States, it is also in consonance with the tribal Pashtun traditions.

In sum, the first-ever Afghan-Pak Joint Peace Jirga in Kabul is an important step towards politically winning the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions. It constitutes the beginning of a long process that may lead to a long-lasting solution to the Afghan conflict.