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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/11/10

Majority of Afghan "Peace Jirga" Delegates Call for Withdrawal of Foreign Forces

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A majority of the delegates attending an Afghan "Peace Jirga" arranged by Afghan President Hamid Karzai have called for an immediate cease-fire by U.S. and other international forces, and an even larger majority demanded a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces. The calls came despite the best efforts of the Karzai administration to stage-manage the process to produce support for a U.S.-approved "reconciliation" plan while heading off any peace initiatives that might limit the actions of U.S./NATO forces.

From the beginning, skepticism was high about the Jirga process because the Karzai government had handpicked the 1600 Jirga delegates. Elders in several provinces objected to the process for selecting representatives, saying people who were invited initially were rejected by the government in favor of others seen as more loyal.

Nevertheless, U.S. and other foreign officials were nervous about the possibility of the Jirga process spinning out of control. The New York Times warned that "the jirga by its very traditions is a forum for free speech that can take on a will of its own," and reported:

Government officials and Western donors were concerned that delegates could even demand a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Officials were already trying to fend off that possibility by declaring such a notion against the interests of peace. Farooq Wardak, the event's organizer, made it clear that he expected the issue to be excluded from discussion.

At the same time, opposition members of Parliament scoffed at the possibility that the Jirga could produce a meaningful result:

"It's dangerous to raise people's expectations with this fake and artificial exercise; it's a workshop, not a jirga," said a leading member of Parliament, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating Karzai officials.

"This is a mistake; all the warlords were there in the front row," said Mir Joyenda, an independent member of Parliament from Kabul. "There is no change that will come to Afghanistan," he said, reflecting widespread disgust with the continued prominent role of former warlords in the government.

When the Jirga finally got underway, the 1600 delegates were divided into 28 committees, which all considered the same set of questions. And that's when the unexpected happened:

Over half of the committees called for an immediate ceasefire to pave the way for negotiations with the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami, the other major Afghan group making up the armed insurgency.

The foreign forces took a pummeling from the various committee heads, almost all of whom called for a timetable for withdrawal and strict regulation of military activities. Night raids, house searches, bombardment of civilian areas, and offensive operations were cited as phenomena contributing to the alienation of the population and the growth of the insurgency.

In the end, Karzai was able to have these demands removed from the Jirga's final report, which limited itself to a general call for an end to bloodshed and called for greater efforts to combat corruption. The only recommendation inconvenient to U.S./NATO forces that was left in the final document was a demand that international forces stop their bombing of civilians.

With troublesome outbreaks of democracy successfully quelled, the Karzai administration is now preparing to move ahead with a U.S.-approved "reconciliation plan" that "will encourage Taliban fighters and leaders, previously siding with armed opposition and extremist groups, to renounce violence and join a constructive process of reintegration." The plan carries no requirement that U.S./NATO forces renounce violence.

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Steve Burns is Program Director of Wisconsin Network of Peace a Justice, a coalition of more than 160 groups that work for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.
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