31 October, 2006

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Talbian: a three-way peace conference?

In an attempt to deal with the Taliban problem, the Afghanistan government is convening a jirga, a traditional Pashtun method of mediating disputes through a meeting of tribal elders. The meeting is due to take place near the Pakistani border, at Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan, some time during December or January. The Pak Tribune reports:

Up to 1,600 people were expected to attend, presidential spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad said.

They would be drawn from parliament, civil society and tribal elders, he said, with the United Nations and other international representatives asked to monitor.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf will also be invited, reflecting the government's drive to emphasise that the Taliban problem straddles the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai mooted the jirgas in Washington last month amid tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan about the insurgency, with each blaming the other for not doing enough against the militants.

Pashtuns have for centuries used jirgas or tribal councils, traditionally composed of male tribal elders, to resolve internal disputes.
As the Pak Tribune points out, there is a danger that, through the elders, the Taliban will manipulate the jirga for its own ends, perhaps making unacceptable demands but Karzai feels that it is worth the risk because grass roots support is vital to any settlement.

A Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman was non-committal about the jirga.
About Karzai`s links with Pakistani politicians she said Pakistan is fully cognizant of such contacts and this is result of the rapprochement reached between President Musharraf, President Bush and Hamid Karzai, she added. Under this, Jirga has to be convened from both sides. Modalities are being worked out to hold jirga, she told. When foreign minister visits Kabul the procedure will be evolved, she held.
It loses a bit in translation, but the general tenor seems to confirm that the jirga was part of a deal reached by Presidents Bush, Musharraf and Karzai in Washington and that Pakistan will be a key player. Some lengthy negotiations probably lie ahead, but if the jirga ever takes place it will be in effect, be a three-way peace conference between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban. The US and NATO will no doubt be keeping a sharp eye on how much influence the Taliban is likely to be able to exert.

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