By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A grand assembly convened by Afghanistan’s president has concluded in Kabul with general agreement on a government plan for a continued — but not permanent — U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as well as a strategy for peace.
The gathering, known as a Loya Jirga, brought together around 2,000 tribal elders and other community leaders to promote national consensus around President Hamid Karzai’s preferred approach to both issues.
In his closing speech, Karzai described the jirga’s conclusions as “comprehensive and acceptable.”
Its conclusions are not legally binding, but are likely to boost Karzai’s bargaining position on two particularly contentious issues.
After four days and with organizers suggesting the event might extend another day, a majority of delegates were said to have backed a U.S. troop presence beyond 2014, when most international forces are scheduled to leave or remain only in a support role.
But they supported a key Karzai suggestion that any new agreement with the United States should include an end to night raids on Afghan homes by U.S. forces. They also expressed objections to a permament U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Delegates also gave their support to “moving forward with the peace process,” in Karzai’s words, in a reference to negotiations with the Taliban. But they included suggestions that the government should also place a priority on talks with neighboring Pakistan.
Jirga representatives urged a broadening of peace efforts, saying the pursuit of peace should be a national process.
They demanded reforms of the Afghan High Peace Council, which was led by former President Burhannudin Rabbani until his assassination in September, and asked for a broadly acceptable figure to be named as its new head.
Karzai said in his November 19 closing remarks that the “conditions and suggestions…proposed were for the national interest” and he called on the Defense and Interior ministries to draft a plan “so that we fund our own troops in the long term.”
“Foreigners are not going to give money forever,” Karzai said.
Night raids are among the most unpopular tactics by international forces trying to root out militants. Karzai also had suggested putting Afghans in charge of detainees and other amendments to U.S. rules of operation.
The jirga’s 40 committee leaders spent much of the fourth day presenting their recommendations to the plenary, followed by debate of the government plan’s merits.
It is one of just a handful of Loya Jirgas in Afghan history, including a gathering that approved a post-Taliban Afghan Constitution in early 2004.
Security had been extremely tight at the event. The last major jirga, in June 2010, was marred by a rocket and gun attack by Taliban militants that killed two civilians but failed to disrupt the event.
written by Andy Heil based on RFE/RL and agency reports