Loya Jirga, Intra-Afghan Dialogue and the Challenges Ahead
Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared
Mairaj ul Hamid Nasri
“Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.” —Napoleon Hill
The Loya Jirga, or ‘grand council’, is traditionally the supreme body in Afghanistan. It consists of Afghan dignitaries, including tribal elders, religious figures, and political leaders, from different ethnicities and groups. All important matters, including resolving a national crisis or settling a national issue, are discussed in this council of elders. It is considered the “highest expression” of the Afghan people. In this backdrop, it was held from August 7 to 9 with hundreds of delegates from across the country participating to to determine whether a last set of 400 hard-core prisoners from the Taliban insurgency should be freed to clear the way for long-awaited direct peace talks between Afghanistan’s warring sides.
The Loya Jirga 2020 took three days and was attended by about 3000 elders and notables from across Afghanistan. After extensive talks and discussions, the council has approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners, who in the words of President Ashraf Ghani were “very dangerous,” but releasing them or keeping them in prison was to decide the fate of the intra-Afghan dialogue. The Jirga has now authorized President Dr Ashraf Ghani to go ahead for the release of these inmates from various prisons of the country. Consequently, President Ghani has issued the decree of release of the prisoners, thus burying the rumours of failure of intra-Afghan dialogue.
Earlier, the Afghan government, after the inking of the agreement between the United States and Taliban, started releasing, in phases, about 5000 Taliban prisoners from Afghan prisons, but detainment of the aforementioned over 4000 inmates could have derailed the process of reaching an agreement. Hence, it’s good news for all the stakeholders that all the obstacles in the way of reaching the destination have been removed. Taliban have also welcomed the development and announced their readiness for the planned meetings with Afghan authorities.
Nevertheless, despite this monumental decision of the Loya Jirga, the intra-Afghan dialogue will face many issues and intricacies due to the dual game by some actors in this whole episode. These negotiations are not such simple that they might be concluded in the near future—as is envisaged by the brokers of the US-Taliban deal.
In implementation phase, at first, the constitution will have to be amended, which won’t be an easy task. Secondly, Taliban have two cadres; one that is in headquarters and heads the negotiations and takes decisions while the other cadre consists of the commanders that are fighting on ground against US forces, Afghan army and their allies. In case of a ceasefire before the agreement, these commanders will be consulted and persuaded by the concerned circles. For reaching a consensus on future developments, the Taliban leaders and interlocutors highly regard the say of these commanders. So, bringing them on one page and streamlining them in the mainstream politics will also be a hectic job for all the stakeholders.
Thirdly, during upcoming peace talks at Doha, Qatar, deciding on the future political system of Afghanistan and its governance structure will be another daunting challenge. Fourthly, the readiness of pro-status-quo and anti-Taliban elements to reach a consensus cannot be neglected, because they may have to sacrifice their positions, privileges and prestige conferred upon them by the current political setup. They have to be receptive for the new governance mechanism for the sake of having a long-term, stable and viable political system, destined for the uplift of every sector of Afghanistan. As far as I understand the Afghan politics, I believe this tug of war between the pro- and anti-status quo elements will be detrimental to the dialogue in the near future. There are various ethnicities in Afghanistan having a significant presence in national politics; they wouldn’t accept the supremacy of a single group as it would jeopardize their existence. Those warlords and groups that are the beneficiaries of Afghanistan’s war economy will never want to lose their cash cow.
Apart from internal challenges, the intra-Afghan dialogue may face threats on the external fronts as well. Afghanistan is the battlefield of proxy wars and many regional and global players have their vested interests in this country’s internal politics. Different political groups are supported by various states and are funded accordingly for achieving their interests and damaging those of the hostile players, even though it may create chaos and anarchy in the country. The role of Pakistan, China, India, Russia and Iran in the success and failure of the dialogue will be decisive. Political, social, strategic, economic and integration issues of these states are linked with the situations in Afghanistan; therefore, they will undoubtedly influence the process in one way or another. These states must be onboard while reaching a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, being the immediate neighbour and most-affected country due to fragile situation in Afghanistan, as well as the most active actor for success of Afghan peace process, will have to play a key role in this regard. While acknowledging the long-term struggle of Pakistan for restoring peace in Afghanistan, Taliban have called for holding meetings with other parties in Pakistan as a neutral venue. Pakistan has always welcomed Afghan brothers on its land, and will once again facilitate the Afghans for resolving their outstanding political issues here.
To conclude, the aforementioned challenges to the success of the process need vigilant attention of the stakeholders. These challenges and obstacles are also discussed in the previous issues of this magazine by this author time and again which are still valid and worth reminding to the stakeholders.
The author teaches at department of Political Science, University of Malakand, Chakdara. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.