My op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan Nov 23
The Traditional Loya Jirga has issued a 72-article resolution with recommendations regarding the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement and talks with insurgents. There is nothing new or unexpected in the long resolution than what President Karzai has already said. As discussed in my previous op-ed on this page, President Karzai’s inauguration speech made it clear what the Jirga resolution will look like. Overall, they have unanimously supported presence of American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. It comes to the utter displeasure of Tehran and Rawalpindi, who are against the strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the US. Pro-Tehran elements in Kabul have launched an intense media propaganda campaign to influence public opinion against the presence of US troops beyond 2014. One could see the Iranian displeasure in the way their media reported the Jirga resolution.
Though most of the Jirga demands are repetition of the “conditions” declared by President Karzai in his inauguration speech, some recommendations need to be debated, not because they come from the illegitimate and staged Traditional Loya Jirga (TLJ), but since these points are making the rounds in media as “Afghanistan’s demands” from the US regarding the strategic partnership agreement.
The conditions called “Afghanistan’s demands” by Karzai Administration, without any consultation in the parliament or a debate on it in the TLJ, need to be thoroughly debated in the Lower House and Senate. What seems to be the top of these demands is the call for end to night raids. How practical is it? Though the TLJ mentions it conditionally saying night operations should be “Afghan-led”, the question is, if insurgents continue attacking civilians, target Afghan and international security forces beyond 2014, and a peace process fails to make a breakthrough by then, why to end the night-raids? If night-raids do not cause civilian deaths, but eliminates terrorists in the surprise of the night, it should continue. Osama bin Ladin was killed in a night-raid. Many important militant leaders have been killed or captured in operations conducted at night. Afghan Special Forces could be trained to join the US troops for such night-raids.
Some of the conditions are in contradiction to other demands. For instance, President Karzai in his inauguration speech said the US should pursue terrorists in their safe havens and hideouts outside our borders–clearly referring to Pakistan. But at the same time, they demand that the agreement must mention that the US forces take no action outside borders of Afghanistan.
In article 19 of the Jirga resolution, it is recommended that the strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan should be “registered with the United Nations”. These conditions make it sound as if Afghanistan is gaining nothing and all goes to the US. It is more in the interest of Afghanistan that the US troops remain in our country than that of America’s. Why our geniuses of the Jirga think it’s important to make the UN privy of the agreement between the two countries? It’s not an strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the world.
However, the TLJ was very specific in its recommendations on talks with militants. After all-out efforts of President Karzai to reach to Taliban, he finally admitted failure after assassination of Ustad Rabbani. His statement to stop the peace process had made quite a thunder, but as usual, he changed the rhetoric a week later. Stuck in his failed attempts that has led to nowhere, President Karzai particularly emphasized on “advice” and “recommendations” about the peace process from the TLJ, something that he did not mention regarding the agreement with the US, and declared the conditions in his inauguration speech before the Jirga participants know what they were supposed to talk about. The TLJ resolution has detailed articles on peace talks with militants. Following are the important lines:
- In order to get durable peace and solve problems in Afghanistan and the region, the Afghan Government should seriously talk with Pakistan.
- There should be clear definition of friends, opponents and enemies so that the process will be implemented accordingly.
- Negotiations should take place with those individuals who have Afghan identity, their address is clear and who want political solution in the country through a legitimate political process.
- All know that insurgent leaders live in Pakistan and specific networks [read it ISI] have close relations with them. There is a need for peace efforts in Afghanistan and for honest cooperation of Pakistan in this regard. Jirga members ask Pakistan to change its policy towards Afghanistan and honestly cooperate in eliminating security challenges.
The recommendations of the TLJ cannot be referred to the parliament because TLJ is not a legitimate body with constitutional status. President Karzai wanted to give the decision of strategic agreement with the US a cover of national support, which he could easily get through the parliament, but a show of the Jirga was staged for reasons beyond getting popular support. It was a sideshow of the political bargaining and agenda of setting ground for future manipulations.
Insurgents, who tried their best to disrupt the Jirga with attacks, have rejected the TLJ, saying presence of foreign troops will provoke regional sensitivities. In their statements, the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami said the Jirga was not representative of Afghans. Now those who destroy their motherland under the patronage of regional intelligence agencies are talking about “regional sensitivity”. It clearly shows where their support comes from.
Meanwhile, there was a protest demonstration by students of the Islamic University in Nangarhar chanting slogans against the endorsement of the agreement with the US. In their resolution, they were calling for Jihad against all foreign forces in Afghanistan. It has been this democratic system that ensures their right to protest, they could not dare to do such a thing under the Taliban regime. It’s more than obvious that a huge majority of our nation support the agreement with the US about presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Even if major political opposition groups were against a manipulated Jirga, they support the strategic partnership agreement with the US. All the three major groups in the opposition block—National Front, Hope and Change and the newly found Right and Justice Party—support it. There is an overwhelming support in the parliament as well. The Senate has already welcomed the resolutions of the TLJ.
To the utter surprise of those students, many Mullahs of Kabul mosques in their Friday sermons discussed the Jirga resolutions positively saying the agreement with the US is in the national interest of Afghanistan. One even said, “The greatest Islamic country Saudi Arabia has also signed agreements with the US”. Though I am glad some Mullahs of the mosques are enthusiastic and supportive about the agreement, it would be better for Afghanistan if they remained limited to their religious guidance of the people, rather than political commentary in Friday sermons. It should be the job of politicians.