Let the jirga games begin – with a bang
After many delays, several faux pas, and much discourse over conflicting goals and a lack of direction, the much-awaited peace jirga kicked off this morning – with a bang.
The usual bang – or bangs – it must be said, although this time, the rockets came pretty close.
The first one came just as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering the inaugural address inside the giant white tent erected on the grounds of the Kabul Polytechnic University.
It did however provide an opportunity for some quintessentially Karzai stabs at humor. “Perhaps someone’s trying to fire a rocket,” he quipped in deadpan mode. “Even a three-year-old would not be afraid. Let’s continue.” And continue he did, to his credit.
But then, as the sounds of rockets and gunfire inched closer, Karzai wrapped up his speech and promptly left.
There was much discussion over whether Karzai was scheduled to stay at the jirga or leave right after his address. If that indeed is the case, I fail to see why the Afghan president lacks the time for a political initiative of such import – for his administration, for his people, for his country and for the foreign troops who are risking their lives in his country.
But then is it really such a high stakes initiative, this peace jirga?
There’s the usual ceremonial Kabul jirga drama: delegates flashing security passes, security personnel outnumbering delegates, a rich array of magnificently tied turbans, the beards at various lengths and colors.
The ladies section features rows of women elegantly veiled, impeccably poised…oh, the dear old Afghan ladies section, it breaks my heart to see - to feel - the hopes, the sheer tenacity of all these Afghan women. We’ve been here before. We’ve had jirgas in the past, where the ladies have been hushed and shushed by the grand male elders. And still they shout on, and still they fight. I can see they’re not ready to quit. Are we going to let them down again? Who are these Taliban, these men who did not let girls near a school? Which one of them are we talking to?
Good question: which ones are we talking to? Nobody knows. Much is heard, nothing is confirmed.
The last senior Talib from the Quetta shura who tried negotiating with Afghan officials - Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – was arrested by Pakistani authorities. A senior Pakistani official told The New Yorker that Baradar’s arrest was – and I quote – “an F you” to the Afghan government. It was designed to make it clear to Karzai that Pakistan will control the Taliban-talking shots.
The Talibs who pose the greatest security threats right now – like Jalaluddin Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin – have no appetite for negotiations. Neither, it seems, does the US.
So, let the peace jirga circus continue. I eagerly await the final declaration. Not because it will change the course of history, but out of purely linguistic concerns.