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Peace Jirga hangs in balance of Karzai-Obama visit

If Karzai comes home empty-handed from Washington meeting, he could easily turn Peace Jirga against Americans.

“The Americans have realized that it is not in their best interests to act this way with Karzai,” said Mojda. “They became softer, more conciliatory.”

That is all to the good. Afghans like to see their leaders given the royal treatment when abroad, and a warm welcome in Washington will at least temporarily raise the president’s ratings at home. But soon enough the grumbling will begin: Karzai is no more than an American puppet; he went to Washington to receive his marching orders; Afghanistan’s fate is being decided by foreigners and infidels.

The Peace Jirga is already suffering from the aura surrounding the trip: according to Sen. Mohammad Afzal Ahmadzai, a member of Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament, the timing of Karzai’s Washington visit has made Afghans suspicious.

The Jirga was originally planned for May 2-4; it was postponed to accommodate Karzai’s travel schedule.

“The Jirga has lost its authority because of the delay,” said the senator. “Afghans think that everything will be decided in Washington. But Afghans do not respect prescriptions from abroad.”

The organizers of the Jirga deny that there was a direct relationship between the Washington visit and the timing of the Jirga.

“It is just propaganda [to say that Karzai is going to Washington to get his orders],” said Gul Agha Ahmadi, spokesperson for the Jirga Organizational Committee. “The event was delayed for technical reasons.”

More important than the date of the Jirga is the prospect for a significant step toward peace. Afghanistan has been at war for more than 30 years; the U.S., too, seems to be feeling fatigue as the conflict stretches on. It has been conventional wisdom for years that a military solution is not possible; this suggests that negotiations with the armed opposition will be necessary.

But as the leaders of Afghanistan and the U.S. sit down to work out a road map for the “peace with honor” that they both insist they want, the people of Afghanistan are far from a consensus on how far they are prepared to go to achieve that goal.

The National Consultative Peace Jirga, now scheduled for May 29 in Kabul, will bring together 1,500 representatives from Afghan government and civil society, women’s groups, tribal elders, business people and other groups. Conspicuously absent will be the Taliban and other armed opposition factions: they have not been invited to the table, although presumably they will be the major topic of conversation.