The long-anticipated peace jirga in Afghanistan concluded on Friday, with mixed but potentially very important results. And in its wake, President Karzai—who is committed to opening talks with the Taliban to end the war—fired two top Afghan security officials, to howls of protests from US and NATO officials. Both fired Afghans appear to have been American stooges.
In both the jirga and firing of Afghanistan’s interior minister and intelligence chief, a key issue was Karzai’s insistence on freeing political prisoners held by the United States and Afghanistan, including many Taliban, and removing more than 100 current and former Taliban from the so-called List 1267, the outmoded, post-9/11 UN-maintained watch list. At the jirga, the 1,600 delegates issues a sixteen-point resolution that called for the removal of top insurgent leaders from List 1267, including Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a key insurgent leader.
The jirga’s key accomplishments are significant: It decided to create a permanent shura, or council, to explore the opening of peace negotiations, and it’s possible that current or former members of the Taliban could take part in that council. It called on the Taliban to cut ties with Al Qaeda, a call widely seen as meant to placate the United States—even though Al Qaeda barely exists as an organization anymore. Besides calling for the elimination of the UN blacklist, it also called for the release of detainees held by the United States in Guantánamo and at Bagram Air Base and other prisons. Under great pressure from the United States, the jirga stopped short of calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
The point of removing the Taliban officials from the list: it’s impossible to have official peace talks with men who would be instantly arrested and incarcerated. And it’s a gesture to the Taliban, a sign that Karzai is serious about wanting reconciliation. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, has expressed horror at the idea of removing Mullah Omar from the UN list.
The jirga also demanded that no preconditions be imposed on peace talks with the Taliban. As Anand Gopal in the Christian Science Monitor reported:
Among the controversial propositions include the demand that both the Taliban and the Afghan government drop any preconditions for talks. Kabul and Washington have said that they will only talk to those insurgents who lay down their weapons and accept the Afghan constitution. The insurgents, on the other hand, believe such terms constitute a surrender and refuse to start talks until foreign troops leave.
A number of delegates said the government’s demands were unrealistic.
"When they say put down your guns and accept our law and then we’ll talk, what kind of negotiation is that?" asks a delegate from the eastern province of Nangarhar, who asked not to be named.
Originally announced by Karzai in January, the jirga was to have included representatives of the Taliban, apparently including Mullah Baradur, the number-two Taliban official, who had engaged in secret contacts with Karzai and the UN. But in February, Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, threw a monkey wrench into the planning for the jirga by arresting Baradur. His arrest was widely seen as an act by Pakistan to assert control over the Afghan peace process, a message to Karzai that his efforts would fail unless they brought Pakistan into the center of the talks.