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Afghans Debate Value of Peace 'Jirga' Resolution

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's three-day peace assembly, known as a jirga, has ended with delegates from across the country agreeing that reaching out to the Taliban is the best way forward to end more than eight years of war.

President Hamid Karzai had invited delegates from all walks of life in Afghanistan to his peace jirga: politicians, religious scholars, tribal leaders, civil workers and even Afghan refugees.

With one voice, these 1,600 representatives expressed support for Mr. Karzai's plan to seek reconciliation and reintegration with insurgents.

But not everyone is impressed with the jirga's resolution.

Eshaq Gailani, a member of parliament and a strong supporter of Mr. Karzai's former presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah, who boycotted the jirga also did not attend, despite his invitation as a parliamentarian. He says the jirga's declaration focuses too much on old points, such as freeing so-called political prisoners from jail and removing names from a United Nations embargo list.

"The resolution was not new," he said. "It was all old things from long time ago ... [the] Kabul government is asking about this?"

He says the big winner of the jirga is President Karzai, especially after corruption complaints and last year's election fraud allegations.

"This was good for Mr. Karzai to bring a large number of people to sit," said Gailani. "And he after the election, it was one of the biggest gathering for him to talk in the front of the people."

Haroun Mir with Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies agrees with Gailani and points to a requirement in the resolution that it be part of the agenda at next month's international conference in Kabul.

He says that in the previous conference on Afghanistan held in London, Mr. Karzai requested $1 billion for his Taliban reintegration project, but countries only committed $150 million. By using the jirga resolution, Mir says President Karzai wants to pressure donors to get more money.

The resolution calls for the formation of an Afghan commission to lead the peace effort with insurgents who do not have foreign ties. Several times during the jirga, speakers reached out to the Taliban and the rival insurgent faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-e-Islami.

Mawlawi Ataullah Ludin, a former commander for Hekmatyar, now is a member of parliament with Hezb-e-Islami's political faction also attended the jirga and says he is sure Hekmatyar will consider the resolution.

He says Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami is completely different from the Taliban. He says it believes in political pluralism, female education and elections.

Representatives for Hekmatyar met with President Karzai earlier this year with their demands, saying coalition forces leave soon and there be an interim government until new elections.

Hekmatyar also has his critics who accuse him of human rights violations during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s.

Ludin, who heads parliament's Judicial Administrative Reform and Anti-Corruption Committee, says the jirga is a good step for beginning a dialogue with insurgents.

But he also says one big jirga cannot solve all of Afghanistan's problems. He says he believes smaller, local jirgas now will have a chance to examine other issues.

Farooq Meraini, a member of parliament and also attended the jirga as a delegate, says he is pleased with the outcome and charges the government for fulfilling the jirga's resolution.

"The peace does not belong just for one tribe, not for one family, not for one province, but for all people," he said.

On Sunday, President Karzai issued to a decree, taking the first action to fulfill the jirga's resolution. He appointed a committee that will look at all files of arrested Taliban for the purpose of releasing those who do not face any charges.