Afghan Jirga in Pishin
This was, however, not the end of the movement, nor could it be unless there was an alternative to it. In September 1981 elders from western Afghanistan, led by the former senator Abdul Quddos and the former deputy president of parliament Abdul Ahad Karzay, attempted to convene a loya jirga. They invited the ‘ulama, tribal elders, elder statesmen, and military officers to set up a political leadership. Pointing at the inability of leaders of the Islamic organizations to unite the Afghans, the initiators of the proposal stated that it was now incumbent on them to set up a council (shura) through which the representatives of the Muslims of Afghanistan could lay a foundation for the future. Specifically, they also stated that since party politics had disunited Afghans, they should abandon it in favor of the institution of the jirga, by which their forefathers had resolved national problems in critical times. They stated that under the leadership of an elected acting president and secretaries, the proposed jirga would adopt guidelines on the basis of which a shura and a political leadership would be set up and a government in exile formed.
The response was overwhelming, despite warnings from fundamentalists to those who wished to attend the jirga. In their view the jirga was a suicidal attempt by “the enemies of Islam and leftist parties.” More than three thousand influential persons from all over the country arrived at Quetta, but local authorities requested that they move to the smaller town of Pishin for security reasons. There, too, the meetings were postponed for a few days because of the arrival in the region of President Zia al-Haq. Against the opposition of the police, who argued that the jirga should not be held, the Afghans insisted that since it was an Afghan affair, others had nothing to do with it. This time the moderate Islamic organizations boycotted the jirga, alleging that the Parchamis had infiltrated it. The jirga elders said that since the jirga did not intend to be an instrument in the hands of any organization, opposition to it was understandable. But unlike Peshawar, where the Islamists could disrupt such meetings, Pishin was safe from such interferences. The meetings were held as scheduled in September 1981.
The question of the selection of a national leader (mille qa’id) dominated the meetings of the jirga. Ningrahar elders proposed the former king for the position; this motion was accepted after a debate in which the Kandahari proponents of the king argued against the advisability of the proposal at this juncture. A commission composed of five representatives from each province and major district, as well as from the nomads and Hazaras, was assigned the task of setting up local councils, provincial councils, and a central council, called the National Islamic Council. But the former king was living in Rome: he could not come to landlocked Afghanistan, nor could he direct his followers there in the face of opposition from Pakistan as well as the Afghan Islamists. It is an irony of history that in 1929, under similar circumstances, the non-Muslim British government of India allowed Mohammad Nadir Khan to pass on to Afghanistan, where he founded his dynasty, while the Muslim rulers of Pakistan refused to allow his son (Mohammad Zahir) to do the same. Mohammad Zahir had neither organized support among his followers nor sympathetic listeners to his cause in the neighboring countries.
Likewise, the elders—who were the embodiment of social wisdom and experience but who, unlike their opponents, were neither organized nor supported by a foreign power—were alienated from the Islamic groups in general and the fundamentalist groups in particular. Because of that alienation, the liberation movement worked against itself, creating a situation that made it dependent on foreign powers and distanced it from its grass roots, thus leading to its weakness. At a time of struggle against foreign domination, when the neighboring supportive powers also intended to influence Afghan politics through their surrogates, those who acted on the principle of self-determination had little chance of success. But the Pishin jirga, by pinpointing the former king as an embodiment of Afghan nationalism, brought him to the focus of attention.