Loya Jirga a mere political stunt?
31 January, 2007
By Amir Latif
Though, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have constituted their respective Loya Jirga commissions, analysts are skeptical if the event would actually take place, specially after Pakistan announced to mine and fence certain parts of its 2,400-km border with Afghanistan to control ‘cross-border infiltration’.
The recent hard-hitting statement of Afghan intelligence officials claiming that Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omer is hiding in Quetta and is being patronized by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has further diminished the chances of holding the jirgas. Even if it happens, analysts believe, the US-sponsored move is unlikely to yield the desired results.
The heads of both commissions are not being considered more than mere "showpieces" by independent experts. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, and Pir Syed Ahmed Gilani, who head Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga commissions, respectively, have no personal or party influence in the tribal areas. Other two members of Pakistan’s Loya Jirga commission are Federal Minister for Culture Ghazi Ghulam Jamal and Federal Minister for Frontier Affairs Sardar Yar Mohammed Rind, who, too, are considered elpless in this regard.
"Temporary and fake ideas like Loya Jirga will not work because the main issue is occupation," Dr. Shamim Akhtar, former chairman of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, says. "Until and unless, the occupation forces leave Afghanistan, the problem cannot be resolved," he opined. "At best, the Loya Jirga is unlikely to be anything more than a public relations stunt to legitimize the current regime and the US bombing campaign that led up to it," said Akhtar.
"Clearly, the risk is in the Loya Jirga appearing to be under foreign control, regardless of who is actually in control." During a meeting last year in Washington, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to convene a meeting of Afghan elders residing across the joint borders. "There is an agreement on the basic concept," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told a briefing earlier this week.
"The effort is to use this traditional institution to establish peace in Afghanistan," she said. Pakistan favors limiting attendance to leaders of the ethnic Pushtun tribes that inhabit both sides of the rugged border, while Afghanistan wants all of its ethnic groups to be represented at the talks. Karzai has written letters to Pakistani opposition leaders Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussein Ahmed as well as Awami Nation Party chief Asfandyar Wali in the North-West Frontier Province to woo generally Pushtuns and particularly Taliban to participate in the process.
Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussein have told the Afghan leader that in the presence of allied troops in the country, they can’t help him. Wali, for his part, has promised to help him.
A Loya Jirga usually brings together tribal or regional leaders, political, military and religious figures. There are no time limits in a Loya Jirga and it continues until decisions are reached.
Decisions, which are made by consensus, have invariably been accepted by all sections of the Afghan people. However, in this case, analysts are skeptical about the success of the idea as the two major forces in Afghanistan—Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar—have refused to participate in the process, dubbing it a " political stunt" at the behest of America.
Dr Akhtar said a few Afghans might be excited about a process that has been wrongly touted as a turning point towards peace and democracy.
"Whether America and the West accept that or not, the reality is that Taliban and Hikmatyar are the representatives of the majority of Afghanistan," he maintained.
"They are fighting the foreign aggression, and it makes no difference whether the US and its allies term it terrorism. It does not change the ground reality," the expert added.
"Hizb-e-Islami will support the holding of Loya Jirga only if the occupation forces leave our country," Hikmatyar, who is reportedly leading the armed attacks on foreign troops in southeastern Afghanistan, said in a statement issued to newspapers last week.
Hikmatyar, a leading figure of US-backed Afghan Jihad in 1980s, enjoys an ostensible support in Kunar, Nooristan, Naghman, Paktika, Paktia, and Gerdez provinces.
"We will stay away, and try our level best to foil ideas like this (Loya Jirga), which are aimed at strengthening US occupation through its puppets like Karzai," Qari Yousuf, a Taliban spokesman, told newsmen by satellite telephone from an unknown location.
He asserted that Taliban leader Mullah Omer and his followers would not participate in the US-sponsored Loya Jirga.
Dr Tariq Rehman, a senior expert on Afghan affairs, said the outcome of the proposed Loya Jirga could be a more devastating disappointment for those Afghans who were optimistic about it. "Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country. While the Pushtuns are the largest ethnic group, the minorities, taken together, form an overall majority," he noted.
"A major weakness of the incumbent regime is its predominantly Uzbek and Tajik character for majority Pushtuns. And if the Pushtuns, who are being represented by Taliban and Hikmatyar, do not participate in Loya Jirga, there will be no use of it," Dr Rehman said.
Dr Akhtar, however, insisted that it was not only the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami who were creating trouble for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
"This is absolutely wrong. I agree that Taliban and Hikmatyar are part of the ongoing anti-occupation struggle, but an overwhelming majority of Pushtuns is supporting this war militarily and economically," he said. "America should not forget the fact that traditionally and historically, Afghans have never accepted any kind of occupation or occupation forces."
The success of the Loya Jirga also hinges on the assumption that the numerous well-armed warlords will simply melt away and allow a transparent and democratic process to occur. Another potential obstacle is the increasing influence of drug mafia in the present setup.
According to anti-narcotics officials of Pakistan and Afghanistan, various warlords, who have been supporting the Karzai government, are involved in drug trade, which has again become the backbone of Afghan economy.
A fragile government in Afghanistan suits them (drug smugglers). They feel very comfortable in a situation like this, security analysts believe.
Therefore, they think, the drug mafia would try its level best to subvert any process aimed at establishing a strong government.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently warned that the US-led troops and the West-backed Karzai government have been collaborating with bloodstained hands, appointing war criminals and human rights abusers to complete their ‘mission’.
Such perpetrators now enjoy a massive presence in the government and the parliament, and they still misuse power, according to the international human rights watchdog.
The Mujahiddin, who fought against the Soviets and are now advocating an end to the US presence in Afghanistan, also stand as an obstacle in the success of the Loya Jirga.
The Mujahiddin, including former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and pro- Iran Ismail Khan, want least US influence through a proposed "government of consensus" in Afghanistan. Ikram Sehgal, a senior defence and security analyst close to the US and Pakistani establishments, believes the Loya Jirga would not yield the desired results as 90 per cent of Taliban militants reside in refugee camps in Pakistan.
"They have been operating from refugee camps set up in Pakistan. You just dismantle these camps, the problems would be resolved automatically," he told Paktribune.
"Another desperately-needed step is to present smuggling through Afghan Transit Trade, which has been providing financial and military resources to militants, particularly tribals," Sehgal said.
"If Pakistan grants transit trade status to its tribal region, then it would provide abundant economic opportunities to local poor people who generally fall prey to the warlords or the foreign militants just because of poverty and lack of economic opportunities," he maintained.
"These are the major steps which must be taken forthwith, otherwise ideas like the so-called Loya Jirga will be nothing but a waste of time."
Dr Akhtar suggested that the US should withdraw from Afghanistan under the UN cover and a UN peace force, comprising troops from non-aliened countries, be deployed with a mandate to protect national installations and hold free and fair elections.
"This is very much possible as the idea has already been implemented in Namibia, where the UN peace force had been detailed to establish and maintain law and order."
He disagreed with the contention that the US supported the Loya Jirga idea because it wanted a respectable way out from Afghanistan.
"America does not want to leave from Afghanistan due to its economic and strategic interest," he said. "By floating and implementing ideas like Loya Jirga, it wants to legitimize its as well as the hand-picked Afghan government’s presence," he maintained.