Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan's troubled history. These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country's history from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.
Next week's jirga is aimed at building a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai's effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.
But the question is how much of an influence Afghanistan's half a dozen direct neighbours including Pakistan and Iran and near ones such as India, Saudi Arabia and Russia will exert on any possible settlement of the conflict. At one level Afghanistan has become a battleground for India and Pakistan on the one hand, and the United States and Iran on the other. At another level there is also China's deepening economic engagement and Russis's concerns of the arc of instability radiating from Afghanistan into the Central Asia republics.
Here's how some of the big regional players are approaching a U.S. military withdrawal stated to begin from mid-2011 and Karzai'sbid to seek reconciliation with the Taliban who have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate.
Of all of Afghanistan's six direct neighbours, Pakistan arguably has the highest stake in the country. The insurgency is largely driven by the Pasthun Taliban and there are Pasthuns on both sides of the Durand Line, the border between the two countries. Many of the early Taliban, who swept through southern Afghanistan in the 1990s after years of civil war, grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan which hosts the largest number.