Afghan Jirga in Peshawar
Following the invasion, a popular movement was set up whose purpose was to unite the Afghan nation, solidify the resistance organizations, liberate the land of foreign domination, topple the client regime, and establish a single political leadership. Contrary to the stand of the leftist internationalists and Islamic universalists, this movement’s stand was based on the notion of Afghan solidarity as a nation, and its leaders followed a path like that followed by Afghan elders in the past on similar occasions. Every day about one thousand Afghans, led by community elders, mujahid commanders, and former members of parliament, gathered first in the Madani Mosque and later in the Mahabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar. In Waziristan and Thal, too, Afghan refugees held similar jirgas. The meetings held in Peshawar, which lasted in intervals for three months until 13 May 1980, assumed the features of a loya jirga, a traditional way of resolving a crisis on the basis of consensus. This made it necessary for tribal and community elders to unite with leaders of the Islamic organizations. The jirga focused its efforts on this essential but difficult point.
Under the leadership of Qazi Mohammad Omar Babrakzay, the jirga made two decisions: to create conditions for the convening of a mumassila loya jirga (a jirga akin to the loya jirga) and to invite leaders of the Islamic organizations. In a proposal to the Revolutionary Islamic Council of the Islamic organizations it stated, “Since among you important talks are being held on the fate of Afghanistan, and since these talks are about our fatherland, religion, honor [namoas], and independence, we propose that on the question of determination of our fate all authoritative tribal elders should take part in decisions through such a loya jirga. Any decision made in our absence would have no validity with the Afghan nation.” At first leaders of the Islamic organizations took the invitation lightly. However, when more than 150 tribal and community elders separated from them in protest and joined the jirga, the Islamist leaders agreed to take part. At this time the Islamic organizations were not strong enough to ignore such a call. They had neither sufficient logistics nor weapons at their disposal. Also, the refugees, whose number was increasing, were more enthusiastic about the jirga than about the Islamic organizations. The clashes that the mujahid commanders—particularly the Hizb and Jam’iyyat commanders—had permitted to happen among them had disillusioned the Afghans. They wanted jehad, not internecine battles. Also, the Peshawar-based organizations had frustrated many of their mujahideen by their inability to provide arms. The Islamic organizations then took part in the jirga, and their representatives supported its goals. Mohammad Hashim Mojaddidi, representative of the National Salvation Front, proposed that a united revolutionary council be set up. Its leader, Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, who alone of the leaders of the organizations participated, warned the jirga against sabotage by hypocrites and people in pursuit of self-interest.
The jirga bore fruit on 21 February, when it passed a resolution of thirty-four clauses. The resolution consisted of guidelines covering all aspects of the jehad, the first of its kind to be laid down. One clause proposed setting up a revolutionary council, a government in exile. In another clause the Afghans in Kabul were asked to boycott the client regime. Well-to-do Afghans were called on to assist the mujahideen financially. In another clause the Afghans were asked, in accord with Islamic and Afghan codes, to desist from taking revenge until the jehad ended. Since the jirga was administered according to traditional codes, violators were considered subject to execution. Afghan tribes were, in line with the disciplinary codes of the jirga (nirkh), asked not to give asylum to perpetrators of personal revenge.
Since the implementation of the resolution required the cooperation of the Islamic organizations, the jirga asked their leaders to forge unity among themselves and to allow representatives of tribes to take part in the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan. It also called on the Afghan nation to solidify its ranks. Sayyed Ahmad Gailani and Sibgatullah Mojaddidi declared their support for the resolution. But some from within and without opposed the jirga. A number of its founding members seceded from it to set up a rival jirga, the Loya Jirga of the Tribes of Afghanistan. This threat was soon averted, however, and the seceders rejoined. The threat from the fundamentalists was more serious. Hekmatyar opposed membership of tribal elders in the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Unity, arguing that they wanted to snatch its leadership. He also accused certain elders of trying to destroy the Islamic Unity. The Kabul regime was also quick in undermining its successes. Shaken by the February Uprising (described in the next chapter), it promulgated a new constitution and distributed conciliatory leaflets in the border regions whence many elders came. From time to time it also convened jirgas of its own.
The jirga’s last round of sessions lasted from 11 May to 13 May 1980, with 916 members from the administrative units of the country, including some from nomadic groups. In a new resolution it repeated its stated goals, proposing at the same time that an Islamic National Revolutionary Council (Islami Milli Inqilabi Jirga) be set up. The Council was to have an executive committee and a series of subcommittees, which would carry on practical affairs. Leaders of the Islamic organizations could become its members provided that they supported the resolution. In effect, the jirga outlined a government in exile. Headed by Mohammad Omar Babrakzay as the acting president of the jirga and Asadullah Safay, a former member of parliament, as chief of the Revolutionary Council, the structure was to remain in force until an elected government was instituted. Believing in the principle of election as the foundation of state structure, the jirga declared, “It [the jirga] considers legitimate and legal only the state that is instituted in line with the national and Islamic spirit following [the restoration of] full independence, through free and impartial elections.” Affirming the principle of separation of the three branches of the state, it stood for the freedom of expression within the bounds of laws and declared its opposition to an absolute order.
There were now two revolutionary councils: the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, composed of the six Islamic organizations, and the National and Islamic Revolutionary Council, composed of tribal and community elders. Both were for an “Islamic republic.” But the nature and composition of the two “Islamic republics” differed. While the former stood for an ideological Islamic republic, the latter stood for a national, Islamic, and democratic republic. This difference made cooperation between their supporters impossible. The Islamic Union branded the jirga “another enemy of the sacred Islamic revolution of Afghanistan.” In response, the National Islamic Council stated that while representatives and leaders of the Islamic organizations supported the jirga, there were a few in the unity who, because of ignorance, denounced it. It also stated that the “real Islamic groups would never do something for which they would make themselves liable to the Muslim nation of Afghanistan.” The jirga used such language against the Islamic Union because of its popularity with the refugees, who numbered more than 700,000 at the time. The Islamic Union withdrew its statement.
Forging unity and procuring financial assistance were the two important issues to which the National Islamic Council addressed itself. But these issues sealed its doom. The council set up a commission to ensure membership of the Islamic organizations and procure financial assistance from friendly countries. Already Saudi Arabia and a few others had expressed their willingness to grant financial assistance. But they had made this assistance conditional on the creation of a unified center. The Islamic Union held that it had created such a center already, while the National Islamic Council intended to forge a larger unity. “At this juncture certain [Islamic] organizations, in order to procure [financial] assistance, tried to extend control over the National Islamic Revolutionary Council.” Also, some leaders of the Islamic Union feared that, because of the success of the jirga, power was slipping from them. Although in principle in favor of the jirga, Gailani and Mojaddidi competed with each other in influencing it while the Islamists tried to undermine it. The attitude shown toward the jirga by the authorities of the host country proved crucial. A number of times Pakistani police warned its participants to disperse for security reasons. Once they took away many of them in two trucks after a group from a fundamentalist organization had beaten them. Pakistan did not want the Afghans to set up new organizations on its soil; this point had been decreed by the Consultative Board, a high-level commission concerned with Afghan affairs and headed by President Zia al-Haq. The board persuaded Afghan refugees to join the Islamic party of Hekmatyar. But the jirga’s coup de grâce came from within. Supported by his followers, a member of the Gailani family chaired the jirga in violation of its procedures, as a result of which the majority boycotted it. Subsequent efforts aimed at creating regional unions for the same purpose also came to nothing. Thus failed the first attempt by Afghans to set up a political structure along traditional lines at a time of national crisis.