The Afghan peace jirga has broken up with no breakthrough. But should Karzai even be trying to reach out to the Taliban?
Noor Aqha will never forget the suicide attack last February near Kabul’s main market, Sher-e-Naw, because he’s lucky to have survived it. Aqha was in a taxi on his way to work from the Dasht-e-barchi district on the outskirts of the city when the bomb went off. The 25-year-old IT professional says he’s still traumatized by the experience and appears uncomfortable when discussing it.
He’s far from alone. Afghanistan has witnessed countless such attacks since the fall of the Taliban, but the violence that has wracked the country is not a recent phenomenon—for more than three decades, including during the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, the people of Afghanistan have suffered the see-saw battle of hope and despair, life and death.
For almost a decade now, US-led international forces have been trying to patch the war-torn country up, but with the break-up of the peace jirga at the weekend without any decisive breakthrough there seems to be little light at the end of the tunnel.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the conference in an effort to find ways of bringing some Taliban elements into the process of reconciliation, and the idea of talking peace with the Taliban and hard-line Islamists is tempting to many, including Noor.
‘I think it’s better to have the Taliban negotiating with the Afghan government, because they’re also part of Afghan society and Afghanistan is their soil,’ he says. ‘This will bring unity among the people and will drive foreign forces out of Afghanistan.’
But a substantial majority of the country remains sceptical about trying to bring the militant outfit into the mainstream.
Nayeem Osami, a taxi driver, doesn’t share Noor’s optimism. Nayeem served as a bodyguard and member of the personal staff of the late Mujaheedin leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was instrumental in leading the rebellion against Soviet forces in 1980s.
‘Do you really think Mullah Omar and Hamid Karzai are going to come together? Do you think that Pakistan is going to allow the Taliban to deal with the Afghanistan government? It’s impossible,’ Nayeem says in frustration. ‘So long as the Taliban is under the influence of Pakistan this country isn’t going to see peace.’
Karzai’s jirga was called to bring together tribal elders, officials and local powerbrokers from around the country to discuss peace. Reports suggested a 36-page document was drafted outlining plans for drawing in low to mid-level militant fighters with promises of jobs, literacy and vocational training and development aid for their villages. It also spoke about ‘reaching out to top Taliban leaders…through political channels, perhaps by striking them off the UN sanctions list or granting a few the right to be exiled to another nation.’
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