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
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