Last year’s announcement by Presidents Bush, Musharraf, and Karzai of their intention to hold joint Pak-Afghan peace jirgas reflected an emerging consensus that Afghanistan’s instability needed to be tackled with a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.
According to this consensus, no narrowly military or intelligence operations could be expected to defeat the crisis of confidence that threatened the post-9/11 Afghan state.
After the upsurge of violence in 2006, too many Afghans were beginning to believe that the tide had shifted in favour of the Taliban, and too many ofAfghanistan’s neighbours appeared to be hedging their bets in case of a relapse into the Afghan proxy wars of the 1990s.
In this context, the joint peace jirgas were intended to demonstrate Pak-Afghan unity against terrorism and extremism as part of the psychological campaign against a resurgent Taliban. Bringing together local and national leaders from both sides of the border could undermine the Taliban’s propagandistic claim to broad popular support or sympathy.
Sceptics, especially in Pakistan, heaped more than a fair share of scorn on the joint jirga concept. And last week’s proceedings did get off to a rocky start, owing to highly publicised no-shows by delegates from Waziristan, as well as Musharraf’s surprising last-minute decision to skip the opening ceremonies. That said, tribal and political leaders in attendance found much to discuss, and even their disagreements had the virtue of demonstrating the utility of new, open lines of communication.