Indian Decade

Worth the Effort?

Afghanistan’s peace jirga concluded with no clear breakthrough. Was it worth it?

This is the last in a series of dispatches from Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had a tough time with friends and foes alike during the recently concluded three-day peace council, or jirga, in Kabul.

On the first day, Karzai faced violent opposition from the Taliban, which tried to disrupt the council with rocket attacks. On the final day, a female delegate created a minor commotion in the large assembly by shouting at the president when he rose to deliver the concluding speech. The delegate rose to express her frustration at what she claimed was the marginalization of women during the three days of deliberations.  She also asked why not a single female speaker was chosen to address the large gathering of people drawn from across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and she ended up holding up proceedings for 15 minutes before walking out of the huge tent.

Unlike his inaugural speech, which continued for more than an hour, Karzai wrapped up within ten minutes without making any major comments on the results, and simply thanked the delegates for participating in the first-ever peace council.

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I met a female parliamentarian from Badghis Province, Azita Rafhat, after the meeting concluded and asked her about the protest inside. Rafhat also expressed her sense of disappointment with the ‘condescending’ attitude of the jirga and said the 20 percent female representation of women in the council was window dressing.

That said, it wasn’t just the women who were unhappy. Some of the delegates I managed to speak to were as confused and sceptical as they were on the first day. Abdul Salam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander and a parliamentarian from Zabul Province, dismissed the whole exercise as meaningless without the participation of the Taliban.

Despite the tens of millions of dollars spent preparing for the conference and peace programme, and the hours spent debating as relative luxuries for Afghanistan like energy drinks and abundant food for served, there was nothing new in the resolution calling for a ceasefire, release of prisoners and talks between the government and the insurgents.

Indeed, many question why this meeting was held in the first place.