This is the first in a series of dispatches from Afghanistan
When you reach the venue of an event right on time in the early hours of the morning and are told, after walking two kilometres, that your passes aren't ready, you get the feeling it's going to be a terrible day.
And so it proved to be. Three rocket attacks, one suicide bomb attack and gunfire marked the opening of a conference dubbed a peace jirga. During Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s address to the event, the Taliban fired three rockets, the last one coming within almost 100 meters of the conference.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It created slight panic among the delegates, who had come from around the country, and some of them were seen fleeing the venue in panic.
This was also my first experience of seeing a rocket attack and the deadly sound it produces when it falls. Not very far from the venue, gunshots could be heard and we found out later that two insurgents were killed in a nearby area by the security forces.
So, a conference on peace gets overshadowed by violence. The perception of an imminent threat was strong, so Kabul seemed deserted on the first day of the event, with the security forces blocking almost all the important roads.
But the question is: is there the need for this kind of peace jirga at this stage? There aren't many takers for the idea that there is. My driver Khalid calls this exercise a waste of time and money. He asks what purpose it will serve when the main opposition group, the Taliban, isn't participating, and when Pakistan isn't willing to commit to reining in the insurgent groups.
In my brief visit to the venue I happened to meet a group of people from Fariyab Province. The leader of the group, Hazi Rahmatullah, was enthusiastic about participation in such a huge event but he also expressed apprehension about the prospects for success of such attempt without the support of the Taliban.