Afghanistan delays peace assembly for second time

Afp May 24, 2010

KABUL: Afghanistan has delayed for a second time a national peace conference, a key component of plans by President Hamid Karzai to resolve almost nine years of conflict, an official said on Monday.

The consultative peace jirga, which aims to bring about 1,200 community and political representatives to Kabul, will be held from June 2, said Najeeb Ameen, the deputy director of policy for the meeting. It had been slated for May 29, having been postponed from an initial schedule in late April or early May. Ameen said the reasons for the delay were “technical and logistical,” as so many people would be attending. “We will have a two-day registration of all participants who arrive from all over the country on May 29 and 30.

This will be followed by a two-day orientation programme on May 31 and June 1,” he said. “The actual jirga of all the participants will take place on June 2.” Karzai pledged to hold the jirga as part of his programme of speeding up an end to the war as the US and Nato allies throw thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan, on track to hit a deployment of 150,000 by August. The jirga is seen as his first step in reaching a consensus on peace with leaders from the country’s complicated tribal, ethnic and regional divides.

His Western backers, notably the US and Britain, have emphasised their support for the jirga as an important milestone in Karzai’s plans to bring peace, clean government and sustainable development to Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama has also mentioned an international conference slated to be held in Kabul in July and a parliamentary election scheduled for September, as events that are meant to show that Karzai is making political progress. Participants in the peace jirga are expected to discuss the prospect of opening a dialogue with the Taliban on ending the conflict, which is becoming increasingly unpopular with the Western public.

No representatives of the Taliban have been invited to attend the jirga although officials have said they will not be turned away if they do turn up. Afghan presidential adviser Mohammad Masoom Stanakzai, who is organising the conference, recently confirmed that the jirga would be open to everyone. “If they contact us it makes no difference from any party, any group. They are welcome. Everyone can participate in this jirga,” he told reporters. As well as Afghan community leaders, the gathering is expected to attract another 200 invited guests such as diplomats and representatives of international organisations.

The Afghan delegates will be divided into 13 categories, including lawmakers, clerics, governors, district officials, civil society, refugees, women and the private sector, organisers have said. Karzai pledged the peace jirga during his inauguration speech last November, after he was declared the winner of fraud-tainted presidential elections that granted him a second five-year term. Western backers have promised to fund a plan to bring the Taliban in from the cold, as Karzai has long said he wishes to do, as a way of forging a peace deal that would end the war.

Some observers fear this could see the government roll back reforms – such as liberties for women, freedom of expression and media – in order to accommodate the insurgents. The plan includes providing jobs to Taliban foot soldiers, largely deemed to be fighting for money rather than adherence to radical ideology.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.

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