In addition to the Afghan-US-NATO alliance, the main issue under deliberation at the Loya Jirga was the signing of a long-term security pact between the US and Afghanistan. Over 2,000 Afghan delegates have convened in Kabul for a Loya Jirga, or grand council. The rhetoric coming out of the Loya Jirga will irk many in the US establishment; however it will most likely be overlooked given the positive outcome for the US-Afghan pact.
Nonetheless, several contentious issues are developing related to reconciliation in Afghanistan. The main ones being,
- The Intra-Afghan political dynamics.
- The shape and size of US presence in Afghanistan after withdrawal in 2014.
- The role of regional stakeholders in Afghanistan.
- The process of US military withdrawal.
- The involvement of various Taliban factions in the political reconciliation and the role of Pakistan.
- The tussles of Emerging and Established powers.
Midday Saturday it was reported that a vast majority of the Loya Jirga delegates, which comprise tribal heads and regional delegates, had voted to support the US-Afghan pact for a continued US presence in Afghanistan past the 2014 withdrawal of combat forces.
The approval of the pact was widely expected, however it is far from establishing the agreement as a clear-cut deal. The delegates approved of the treaty with the inclusion of two conditions: Firstly, that there would be an end to night-time raids on civilian houses, and secondly that all detention facilities in the country would come under Afghan control.
The issue of the night raids has been a sore one for the Afghan’s, as it is strongly felt as an invasion of the privacy of the house, which is a sacrosanct thing for the fiercely private and honor-driven Afghans. However, for the US the night raids have proven a very successful tactic at rooting out militants in civilian areas. An estimated 82 percent of suspected militants currently in detention were captured in night raids.
While the raids and the status of detention centers are important, the overriding sentiment behind the inclusion of the two conditions was that of asserting sovereignty. A reoccurring theme in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s speeches at the Jirga was that Afghanistan is a sovereign, independent nation and should be treated as one. The consensus at the Jirga, and the two conditions set out by delegates, are seen as a strengthening of Karzai’s bargaining power with the US. This does not guarantee that any conditions will be met, but it bolster’s his position because there is a rare consensus behind him. Karzai does not need the permission of the Jirga delegates to broker a deal with the US, however his calling the Jirga together, and standing by the resolution of the Jirga will be seen in a positive light both in the US and in Afghanistan.
The Loya Jirga has been called at a significant time for Afghanistan, in between the Istanbul Conference, held in early November, and the Bonn Conference, scheduled for early December. Both conferences seek to deal with issues of Afghanistan’s future, and the timing of the Loya Jirga couldn’t be more spot-on.
The confirmation of backing for the security pact between the US and Afghanistan is an important step, and will mean a lot more progress is possible at the Bonn Conference. Much more so than at the Istanbul Conference.
Iran’s position at the Bonn Conference also looks positive, given that they were very active at the first Bonn Conference in 2001. President Karzai expressed warm sentiments in regards to Iran at the Loya Jirga, which may pave the way for Iran to take a central role at the Bonn Conference in December. While this is an uneasy balancing act for Afghanistan between the US and Iran, there was some small leeway made in this regard at the Istanbul Conference, as both parties expressed optimism at the shared interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
Pakistan and the US: Friend of Foe?
Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis Afghanistan was expressed with slightly confused sentiments at the Loya Jirga. On the one hand, Pakistan was censured for continuing allegations of interference in Afghanistan, and on the other Karzai vowed that he would side with Pakistan in the eventuation of a US-led attack on the country.
The confused rhetoric did not stop at Pakistan. Karzai played to the anti-American sentiments of his countrymen in his speeches at the Jirga, which will no doubt have irked a great many in the US. Washington, however, has chosen to bight its tongue in this regard, as there is an understanding that the anti-US rhetoric is more about internal politics than any serious design to break ties. Moreover they are far more concerned about brokering the security pact than becoming overly upset about anti-US speechifying.
The Way Forward
The end result of the Loya Jirga was positive for Karzai, positive for the US and saw an unprecedented level of consensus from the Jirga delegates. However, the elephant in the room in all this is that the Taliban were not involved in the Loya Jirga, and did not support its formation, nor its resolutions.
This is a growing trend in the solution-finding process for Afghanistan. The decisions being made in Afghanistan, and at the Istanbul Conference, and no doubt the Bonn Conference as well, are all being rejected by the Taliban. This is not a reason for the solution-finding process to stop, but it is a very big reason to channel more energy into the reconciliation process.
There appears to be a resemblance between the tactics being adopted in negotiations now to those used at the time of Geneva Accords in the late 80s, dealing with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and what would follow. The Mujahidin did not directly take part in the Geneva talks and that part was mostly handled by Pakistan and the US. The counter part included President Najeebullah of Afghanistan and the Soviets.
With US recently shifting its position from excluding Pakistan from the political approach, to putting the onus on it to bring the various factions of Taliban to the table, appears to have a historical precedent. Meanwhile, Pakistan has provided no such guarantee that they have the will or a capacity to pull this off, as they did against the Soviets. Former Mujahidin that are now Taliban leaders, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hizb-e-Islami and Sirajuddin Haqqani of Haqqani network, would likely provide the institutional memory that would result in strong opposition to Pakistan taking on the representation role again. PoliTact would continue to monitor the dynamics of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.