Aug 13, 2007

How Nice Of You To Join Us

I have a feeling that the coffers for this year's Christmas party at the U.S. Embassy Islamabad might be a little light after Musharraf changed his mind this weekend and made a last minute visit to the U.S.-organized "Peace Jirga" in Kabul.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made an unusually frank acknowledgment Sunday that Islamic militants are operating in tribal areas on his nation's side of the border with Afghanistan and providing support to Afghan insurgents fighting government and NATO troops.

Musharraf's comments came in a joint appearance with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the closing session of a four-day tribal gathering in Kabul, the Afghan capital, at which the neighboring nations pledged to cooperate in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

A ... notable absence among the 650 turbaned and bearded tribal elders from both sides of the border was that of the Taliban, and of the consortium of Pakistani religious parties and leaders who have the most influence over radical militants in the lawless areas of Pakistan's North West Frontier. These, after all, are the groups at the root of both countries' problems, and without their participation — or even that of any groups that have influence over them — the effect of the jirga will be little more than cosmetic.

The jirga aimed to provide an opportunity for tribal elders to formulate a strategy to combat the region's escalating terrorism threat, but it has little political legitimacy, and no capabilities for enforcement, laments political analyst and radio talk show host Dad Noorani. "This jirga was just a show, and will have a symbolic effect only," he says. "There is no guarantee that the achievements and recommendations made in this jirga will reduce the tensions in the region. It's the equivalent of throwing cold water on coals."

The jirga was to have taken place in the Afghan city of Jalalabad last December as a Pashtun inter-tribal meeting to discuss the trans-border incursion of insurgents from Pakistan into Afghanistan and the presence of al-Qaeda and foreign fighters in the Pashtun tribal territories.

But it changed to become a conference between official delegations of the two countries. The Pakistani delegation was mainly composed of Pashtuns, with no major national figures from Punjab or Sindh among them. The majority of the speakers from both sides defended the official position of their respective governments in the ongoing blame game between the countries.

In any case, a traditional jirga is not the right mechanism to overcome historic rivalries between Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the majority of Pakistanis, such as Punjabis and Sindhis, the jirga has no historic or legal significance.

The absence of major Punjabis, the dominant ethnic group, proves that Pakistan tried to limit it to a traditional council among Pashtun tribes. ...

There is a difference in perception between Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of resolving issues between the countries. While Afghanistan looks at them in a more traditional and tribal way, such as the jirga, the majority of Pakistanis don't live under such a tribal structure.

In addition, Pakistan's military and civilian leadership does not want to leave its national strategic interests in the hands of a traditional assembly. It considers the jirga as simply a matter of inter-Pashtun dialogue.

The Afghan authorities should have focused mainly on finding solutions to the Pashtun problem in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, because Pashtuns remain the main supporters and backers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Historically, Afghanistan is much better positioned to interfere in Pashtun tribal affairs than Pakistan, because in the past 200 years the majority of its rulers have been Pashtuns who have also claimed authority over the Pashtun tribes in Pakistan.

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