In a Highly Anticipated Televised Speech to Afghans, Hamid Karzai Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

President Karzai just finished delivering a televised speech to the nation about his recent decision to negotiate with Pakistan and discontinue reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

Contrary to what some were expecting, his speech was short on details and did not outline a framework for the new peace effort. Instead, he made a vague promise that a loya jirga (grand assembly) will be convened soon to discuss important national matters.

“In a traditional loya jirga which will be held soon, the representatives of Afghanistan will be asked (about the situation) and we will do according to their wishes,” Karzai said.

President Karzai has shown a propensity to use jirgas to make some of his big, politically difficult decisions and thereby deflect some pressure from the opposition. A three-day jirga in 2010 resulted in the creation of the High Peace Council, headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s erstwhile president who was assassinated less than a month ago by a suicide bomber thought be from the Taliban. The now-disbanded Peace Council had little to show in the way of progress.

Those who think loya jirgas are not inclusive enough and not suitable for making important national decisions will likely criticize Karzai for using the same instrument again. But he seems to have little else in the way of options. His relationship with parliament is particularly tense. And, anyway,  parliament itself is in a state of disorder following the unseating of 9 MPs after months of political showdown between the president and the lawmakers.

Karzai’s speech outlined the rationale behind his decision, emphasizing that Afghanistan needs to talk not with the militants killing Afghan leaders and civilians but with “their supporters” — a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan.

Karzai praised the “brother nation” of Pakistan but criticized its government for not cooperating with Afghanistan in his previous peace efforts. His distinction between the Pakistani people and their government is rare for an Afghan politician. However, his speech was a stinging rebuke to the Pakistani government, viewed by Afghanistan as actively supporting the insurgency. Pakistan denies these assertions, but it has come under increasing pressure from the United States for its ties with the militants.

Image credit: Wikipedia