Assembly Delayed Amid Rumour and Confusion

Organisers of the Loya Jirga postpone the gathering for 24 hours amid rumours of boycotts and last-minute deals.

Assembly Delayed Amid Rumour and Confusion

Organisers of the Loya Jirga postpone the gathering for 24 hours amid rumours of boycotts and last-minute deals.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

The day when Afghan politics were finally scheduled to become open and

transparent turned out to be a whirl of rumour and confusion.

Ex-king Zahir Shah was said to have announced he would not run for office and the Loya Jirga Commission postponed the opening for a day.

American diplomats said late Monday afternoon that the ex-king, who is 87

and ailing, declared he would not be a candidate for the presidency. The announcement left interim administration leader Hamid Karzai as the front-runner for the post of Afghanistan's interim head of state.

The Loya Jirga Commission had already postponed the opening of the

long-awaited gathering of 1500 elected and selected Afghans, which is due to

agree a government for the next two years, when general elections will be


Commission delegate Abdel Salam Rahimi cited "technical and logistical

problems" for the delay, but also admitted there were more people claiming

voting rights to the commission than there were places for them.

"In Kabul alone, we had hundreds of people who came... but not all of them can

be present (to vote)," he told a news conference. "The most important part

is to prepare the final list of voting participants. Hopefully this will be

finished by tomorrow morning."

The original number of delegates to the gathering was set at 1500, of which 1100

were to be elected in the regions and 400 selected by the Loya Jirga

Commission, itself appointed by the United Nations.

Rahimi said there were now over 2,000 people inside the grand assembly compound, but a number of them would be classified as non-voting "guests" and that the final tally of voting delegates would be less than 1700.

Rumours flew throughout the day that 800 delegates had got a petition

together demanding a role for Zahir Shah; that delegates from Kabul and

other provinces were threatening to boycott the Loya Jirga if the ex-king

was given any role; that warlords were being allocated voting places at the

last minute.

The most consistent rumours suggested that a lot of the main contenders for

power in the future government had spent the best part of the last 48 hours

talking to each other.

Pashto political sources said Hamid Karzai had talked with Zahir Shah on Sunday, then held a meeting with ex-president Burhanuddeen Rabbani, Ustad Sayyaf and Mohammad Fahim, currently defence minister and a leading figure in the Northern Alliance.

The jostling for position was also played out in a peaceful way on Kabul's

streets. For months, the Afghan capital has been full of pictures of the

late Ahmed Shah Masoud, the Northern Alliance commander assassinated two

days before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

But overnight, portraits sprang up around town - on street walls and car

windows - of three contenders for the head of state slot: Burhanuddin

Rabbani, Hamid Karzai, and Abdullah Wujdani, a delegate from Nuristan.

Members of the youth section of the Jamiat-e-Islami put up the pictures of

Rabbani while the head of the Ahmadzai tribe, which has declared its support

for Karzai, was said by associates to have paid 45,000 US dollars for two printing presses to churn out pictures of the interim administration leader.

Hafizullah Taja, a delegate from Andarab district in Baghlan province, said

he had been part of a group of delegates to meet Defence Minister Fahim and

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah over the weekend.

The two Northern Alliance leaders had advised them to back Karzai, Taja said, adding that he was disappointed that anyone was trying to influence his vote.

A group of Jamiat-e-Islami delegates, meanwhile, said they would not

support anyone as head of state who did not have proven credentials as a

"mujahid", who had fought the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s.

Whatever the deals worked out beforehand, there is a widespread expectation

that once the Loya Jirga opens, delegates on the floor will make their

voices heard, criticising the "warlordism" that has governed Afghan politics

for the past 23 years.

The IWPR trainee team comprises Mir Enyatullah, Hafizullah Gardesh, Samander Khan, Daneesh Kerokhil and Abdel Wali Saadat.

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