A three-day “peace jirga” in Afghanistan has given rise to more questions than answers. President Hamid Karzai called the jirga to win an endorsement for a peace deal with the Taliban so that it could be held out as a nationally mandated plan. The Taliban, the real and deadly opposition, was not invited; and the non-attendance of some heavyweight opposition politicians took away from the moment. Still, this traditional assembly, seen as a very Afghan way of taking crucial decisions, has helped the embattled Mr. Karzai put behind him some of the controversy surrounding his re-election last year. But the workability of the proposed peace deal is another matter. Foremost among the difficulties relates to the issue of what can be gained by negotiating with a reactionary and brutal group that rejects every way of ordering the world except its own, and Al-Qaeda's. Secondly, the Taliban has a strong card to play: it will not negotiate unless its condition that all foreign troops in Afghanistan must leave is met. Mr. Karzai, however, wants to implement his plan under the protective umbrella of the U.S./ NATO security forces. His game plan is to wean away ‘non-ideological' Taliban fighters with an amnesty, cash, and jobs. There is talk of offering asylum to hardline Taliban leaders in another country, possibly Saudi Arabia, and of working on the international community to have some other Taliban leaders taken off a US/UN blacklist. This would have made sense were the Taliban on the verge of military defeat. It is inconceivable that at this point, when the Taliban senses victory, the core leadership will opt for voluntary exile. Then there is the matter of how compatible Mr. Karzai's plan is with the interests of Pakistan and the United States.

Now in its ninth year, the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has sent the country down a spiral of unending calamity. According to Professor Marc W. Herold, who runs the Afghan Victim Memorial Database, the occupying forces have killed more than 8,500 Afghan civilians from 2001 to the end of February 2010; and the toll has risen steadily since then. With a senseless troop surge under way, close to 80,000 American soldiers are now in Afghanistan. The number is set to nearly double by August 2010, before a planned withdrawal beginning July 2011. Despite the failures in Helmand earlier this year, another operation is imminent in Kandahar. It is certain to add to the appalling number of civilian casualties, which can only aid the Taliban by increasing its support base. The only way to resolve the Afghan conflict is for the occupation to end, and for Afghanistan's neighbours and the U.S. to stop meddling in its affairs. The people of Afghanistan have suffered too long — and the country must be allowed to find the most viable way out of the mess, whatever it takes.

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