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Afghanistan: Karzai's peace meeting plagued by politics and violence

A new Grand Assembly is causing a lot of stir, but its prospects for success are fairly slim.

According to Jalal, Karzai wants to use the Jirga to shore up his image with the international community in advance of the Bonn 2 conference, which is scheduled to take place in Germany in early December.

“The president wants to put political pressure on the West and show his power to his international supporters, who have been recently dissatisfied with Afghan government,” Jalal said. “He wants to demonstrate that he is still able to bring key Afghan figures together.”

Others fear that the president hopes to make an end run around the Constitution by using the Jirga to overturn a provision limiting the president to two terms. Karzai’s tenure is up in 2014 and, while he has said that he will step down when his term expires, many suspect that he will try to remain in office as long as possible.

Karzai has been increasingly erratic of late, issuing statements that have raised hackles in Washington. His interview with Pakistan’s GEO TV, in which he stated that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in the event of any conflict with the United States, was particularly troublesome. Many, including Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have tried to massage the issue away, saying that Karzai’s remarks were misunderstood and taken out of context.

US Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller was sacked for complaining about Karzai’s comments. He called the Afghan president “isolated from reality,” a statement that many in the US administration and even more within the Afghan government quietly agree with.

At a dinner party in Kabul a few months ago, high-ranking officials and lawmakers did little except poke fun at the president. They joke about his vanity and his growing paranoia, and the extent to which they must go to soothe his feelings.

“He asked me who I thought could be president after him,” said one prominent administration insider. “But I knew what to say: ‘Oh, Mr. President, no one could take your place.’”

It might be what Karzai wants to hear. And, indeed, what he may try and get the Jirga to say.

Abdul Qayum Suroush and Asar Hakimi contributed to this report from Kabul.