Afghanistan's Emerging Antiwar Movement

Article excerpt

In a musty room near the edge of town, a group of bearded men sit on the floor and heatedly discuss strategy. The men are in the planning stages of an event that they hope will impact Afghan politics - a peace jirga, or assembly, that will agitate for the end of the war between the Taliban and Afghan government by asking the two sides to come to a settlement.

"People are growing tired of the fighting," says Bakhtar Aminzai of the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, an association of students, professors, lawyers, clerics, and others. "We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns."

Mr. Aminzai is not alone in his sentiments. As violence and insecurity grow in this war-ravaged nation, a broad network of peace activists have been quietly pushing for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban.

This push coincides with recent preliminary talks in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government hosted a secret high-level meeting in September with former Taliban officials and members of the Afghan government. The event was intended to ultimately open the door to direct talks with the Taliban.

Analysts interviewed say that the majority of Afghans favor some sort of negotiated settlement between the warring sides, but many peace activists are critical of the Saudi talks. "We want reconciliation with the Taliban through a loya jirga," or grand assembly of Afghans, says Fatana Gilani, head of the Afghanistan Women's Council (AWC), a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) here. "We don't want interference from foreign countries or negotiations behind closed doors," she says.

Like the AWC, many local NGOs have incorporated antiwar activities into their routine and are joining with other civil society groups to promote the idea of dialogue. The AWC convened a "peace assembly" this past Spring and invited members of the Afghan government and the Taliban to attend. It has also run seminars and conferences in Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland, promoting negotiation.

The National Peace Jirga also organized a series of peace assemblies in recent months, drawing thousands of people. The meetings often feature fiery speakers who condemn international forces for killing civilians - but who also criticize the Taliban.

"Afghanicide - the killing of Afghanistan - must be stopped," says Israir Ahmed Karimizai, a leader of Awakened Youth of Afghanistan, a prominent antiwar group. After seeing the violence grow sharply last year, Mr. Karimizai and a group of friends formed Awakened Youth with the aim of creating a movement that is independent of both the government and the Taliban. In late September the group headed an initiative to observe International Peace Day with speeches, rallies, and a pledge from both the international forces and the Taliban to lay down their arms for one day. …