KABUL (Reuters) - A traditional gathering of Afghan elders and notables called to discuss prospects for peace in the country was dismissed on its eve on Tuesday by the insurgents it was trying to approach.
The Taliban and the Hezb-i-Islami group headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said separately that the “jirga” called by Afghan President Hamid Karzai had no credibility as long as foreign troops remained in Afghanistan.
“The Jirga is meant to confuse the minds of the masses and throw dust into the eyes of the people,” the Taliban said in a statement.
“Obviously, the Jirga will provide yet another pretext for America to continue the war in Afghanistan, rather than bringing about peace in the country.”
With the war in its ninth year despite the modern arsenal at the disposal of the 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, Karzai has called on a centuries-old Afghan tradition by calling a jirga (gathering) of tribal elders and civic representative groups to discuss making overtures to the Taliban.
He has proposed offering amnesty and reintegration to low-level Taliban who accept the constitution; removing some Taliban from a U.N. blacklist; and, allowing certain leaders to get asylum in another Islamic country to hold peace talks.
But even if the some 1,600 delegates at the jirga give Karzai’s proposals their backing, the insurgents have made it clear they will continue fighting.
“The advisory jirga ... actually holds no importance in light of the fact that participants consist of persons who are state favourites,” said a Hezb-i-Islami statement emailed to Reuters.
Hezb-i-Islami has been involved in talks with the government and opposition groups in the past year, but they have not amounted to anything.
“They have no power of decision. It is only a consultative jirga without any participation of mujahideen (resistance fighters),” the group said.
“The Islamic Emirate will confront the illegitimate and unlawful decisions of the jirga by continuing the Islamic Jihad,” the hardline Islamist Taliban said in a statement.
Hekmatyar’s group is mostly active in the east and north of Afghanistan, while the Taliban are strong mostly in the south.
Afghanistan’s neighbours and the West hold little hope that the jirga will achieve anything tangible, but after a year in which he has faced increased criticism for poor leadership and for failing to crackdown on corruption, Karzai is keen for any support he can muster.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is expected to peak later this year as part of a surge ordered by President Barack Obama before he starts withdrawing troops from July 2011.
Editing by David Fox