KABUL – Ahmad Shah knows more than most Afghans about the nation’s 30 years of bloodshed, repression and war: He lost his hands in a mine blast. His father died in an anti-government uprising. His brother was shot 30 times and killed by a rival. And Taliban thugs once beat him up even though he had no hands to punch back.

Shah, 46, was among scores of Afghans who spoke at a “victims’ jirga,” recounting their suffering at the hands of the Taliban and Soviet regimes. The gathering was billed as one of the first of its kind for victims to voice their concerns about the possibility of making peace with those who have perpetrated the violence throughout the years.

Legal advocates who organized Sunday’s conference hope the stories will put pressure on President Hamid Karzai, who is hosting a national assembly next month to seek a consensus on how to reconcile with insurgents and help end the war.

Karzai has said that he would accept back into the fold with any insurgent who renounces violence, severs ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaida and respects the Afghan constitution.

He’s said he’d even talk to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if it would help end the more than eight-year-old war. Such prospects will be on the agenda when Karzai meets with officials in Washington today.

About 1,500 people from across Afghan society were invited to the assembly to seek a consensus on a reconciliation plan. Some victims believe those responsible for the violence should be brought to justice, and they want to deprive them of any chance of regaining positions of power.

The legal advocates hope to build public pressure for those goals. But ultimately political leaders like Karzai will have final say on any reconciliation.

“We cannot lose hope for a peaceful life,” said Sima Hussiani, from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan.

The former Taliban regime — which ruled the country from 1995 until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 — killed her two brothers, both teachers, in the late 1990s.

“I don’t want blood for blood, but the perpetrators should acknowledge their mistakes,” she said.

Shah, who today manages programs at a Kabul center for the disabled, embodies much of Afghanistan’s turbulent past.

He lost parts of both arms in 1987 during the war between the Soviets and mujahedeen fighters. But he said the pain from that injury paled next to the agony he felt over the death of his father, at a 1980 anti-government uprising in Herat province, and the death of his brother, shot in a settling-of-scores in 1984.

Still, he says even the biggest perpetrators of violence could be forgiven — if only they apologize.


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