By Asma Nemati (in Kabul)
The three-day Peace Jirga came to a conclusion today amid heated speeches from leading figures in Afghanistan. Calling for brotherhood among all Muslims, politician Abdul Rasool Sayyaf’s key speech won him applause from a particular group of tribal men donning traditional Afghan turbans.
Sayyaf, a controversial player during the Afghan civil war and the mujahedeen era who was also responsible for inviting Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan, said “my religious duty compels me to bring the Prophet’s message to all of you” while earlier noting that he did not want to make a speech in the first place.
Afghan tribal leaders endorsed President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reconcile with the Taliban, including taking names off black-lists and releasing prisoners who are jailed on false tip-offs. However, many Afghans don’t think peace is feasible unless alternatives are provided for foot soldiers that don’t buy the Taliban ideology.
Abdul Sattar, a taxi driver who drove me home after the peace Jirga, said, “Unless the government helps the poor Taliban...unless the government provides them jobs and opportunities, it will be impossible for the government to deliver peace.”
After talking to Abdul Sattar, we spotted a man who flagged our taxi. Despite the fact that I was the only one in the taxi besides the driver, I was still hesitant to pick the man up (it’s quite normal to share taxi rides here). I told the driver to drive, only to feel a bit guilty since the man’s destination was very close to mine. In a matter of seconds, I reconsidered and told the taxi driver to stop and invite the man to share the taxi.
When the Turban-wearing man came inside, I noticed that he was wearing the Peace Jirga ID, similar to what I had, and that he was a carrying a folder similar to all the participants had in hand at the Jirga tent. I asked, “Ah, you just came back from the jirga?” The taxi driver then inquired the man: “Tell us, what do you think about the outcome?” I also pitched in: “And this will be helpful for me, too, as I’m a journalist.”
The man started talking in a Kandahari Pashto accent, which is very distinct from Pashto spoken elsewhere and it is hard to miss. He said that he was hopeful about extending the olive branch to the Taliban, especially since Karzai promised to deliver on the numerous declarations put together by the 1,600 participants.
Abdul Sattar reiterated what he had told me regarding integrating the Taliban footsoldiers. However, this time he went into detail. The other passenger listened keenly. When it was his turn, he pointed the fact that the Taliban, like the mujahedeen – many of which are still holding offices within the government and come from a very controversial background – don’t need money. He highlighted the mujahedeen’s simple desire to kick out the Russians, without getting paid a single dime, but with help by means of weapons and artillery.
During the man’s reflection, Abdul Sattar the taxi driver seemed to stare at him in unbelievable silence. Without a doubt, if the man was not a Talib, he was at least a sympathizer. Which is very surprising, especially since I asked one of the organizers at the end of the jirga whether any Taliban were invited (including sympathizers, I added); he simply said no.
Despite my unexpected rendezvous, the man was quite cordial and nice. He offered to pay my taxi fare: “Sister, I'll take care of the fare...I'm Kandahari; don't think we don't take care of our guests.” In fact, he was the guest, but upon his insistence, I agreed to share the fare, instead.
My experience with a possible Talib was contrary to what most women at the Peace Jirga felt about the entire reconciliation process. A female participant of the Jirga stormed out of the tent just before President Karzai started his final remarks. She accused Karzai of not listening to women’s take on the entire reconciliation process.
Besides the focus on major stakeholders in Afghanistan, the recent Israeli attack on the freedom flotilla was also condemned. One of the declarations at the end called for the UN and the international community to end the blockade of Gaza.
However, the main outcome was to create a committee to push forward and implement the conclusion of the Peace Jirga. Whether that will actually happen is another question.