Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Another week, another shura for Afghanistan’s Karzai

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with the Bosphorus bridge in the background, poses for a photo in Istanbul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with the Bosphorus bridge in the background, poses for a photo in Istanbul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to be making a habit of going to shuras, or meeting of local elders, across the country in recent weeks. After attending shuras in Marjah, Tirin Kot and Kandahar over the past month and a half, Karzai flew to Kunduz in the north this past weekend for another meeting with tribal elders.  The U.S. military took a group of journalists to the town to watch the Afghan leader in action, his presence at shuras being a part of a carefully choreographed “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at getting local support for NATO operations in the area.

That the security situation in Kunduz is of concern seemed apparent soon after we got off our military plane from Kabul.  Greeted by our German military hosts, we were bundled into heavy flak jackets for a bumpy 5 minute ride at breakneck speed from the airfield to the provincial reconstruction team base.  As we listened to the standard instructions on what to do during a rocket attack, we also learned the last time a rocket had hit the base was just the day before we arrived. Once seen as one of the safer parts of Afghanistan, Kunduz has emerged as a relatively new battlefront in the fight with the Taliban, who have made inroads into the area from their main strongholds in the south and the east. 

At the Kunduz governor’s compound the next morning, the tight security net left no illusions about who was coming to town that day, even if Karzai’s visit had been kept a secret for security reasons. Guards frisked everyone, bags and equipment were put before sniffer dogs and then examined piece by piece.  Once searched, tribal elders – some in bright green chapan coats, colourful turbans or traditional pakol hats – streamed in to the hall holding the shura. I marvelled at the quiet patience of the roughly 250 people assembled as we waited for Karzai to arrive. Finally, a clatter of helicopters overhead and then, in walked Karzai to a standing ovation and applause.  A few minutes later, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. and NATO commander of forces in Afghanistan, made a much quieter entrance and took a seat in the front row with the audience, clearly leaving the show to the Afghan president.  An Afghan woman walks past an election banner with a picture of Hamid Karzai, who is a candidate of the November 7 run-off election for Afghanistan's presidency, in Herat October 31, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

An Afghan woman walks past an election banner with a picture of Hamid Karzai, who is a candidate of the November 7 run-off election for Afghanistan's presidency, in Herat October 31, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Reintegrating the Taliban: where does it leave Afghan women?

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At Thursday’s London conference on Afghanistan, some 60 countries will to try flesh out the details for a plan to gradually hand security to Afghans, which involves strengthening and expanding Afghan security forces, improving the way donor aid to Afghanistan is spent and reintegrating Taliban fighters. But where do women fit into these plans, especially if the Taliban are to be involved?

The plan, which has been tried in the past without much success, would involve luring low-level Taliban from the insurgency using jobs and money to re-join Afghan society. There has also been much talk, particularly in the media, about the possibility of dialogue or negotiations with the Taliban.

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