Inside the Assembly

Although access to the grand assembly compound has been strictly controlled, this reporter managed to get in with a pool of journalists on Sunday.

Inside the Assembly

Although access to the grand assembly compound has been strictly controlled, this reporter managed to get in with a pool of journalists on Sunday.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

The first thing to notice about the Loya Jirga is the amount of security. We went through three checks, manned both by soldiers from ISAF and the Afghan National Guard, before we were eventually allowed into the main tent where the proceedings are being held.

In between the second and the third checkpoints we walked about 300 m up a small road and managed to see where the delegates have been sleeping - Kabul polytechnic dormitories, four stories high, with two tents nearby, reserved for guests.

After all the preparation, we got to the hall only to find that a large part of it was empty, especially at the back. Hundreds of the delegates were moving around outside the tent.

We asked up to 20 of the delegates why they were not following the sessions more closely, and they all said that the gathering had not been as democratic as they wished.

"They keep talking about the same thing and nothing important. It's really frustrating. Other important issues should be discussed," said Abdel Qader Khan from Kandahar.

At the front stood the podium, as wide as the tent itself. The Jirga head, Ismaeel Qassimyar, sat in the middle with two secretaries, one on either side. Along the margins of the tent were people sitting at tables who seemed to be arranging the order of speakers.

In fact, delegates seemed more interested in being interviewed by foreign journalists than in paying attention to the proceedings. As we walked through, they would inspect our badges. In my case, when they learnt that I was not from a radio station known in Afghanistan, such as the BBC, Voice of America, or Deutsche Welle, they seemed to lose a little interest.

All the delegates still seemed confused by the question of the composition of the Shura - the consultative chamber which will monitor the policies of the transitional government until the next general election - and who was proposing what.

Some said it should be based on administrative units; others on population; a number on Loya Jirga delegates. There were even suggestions that it wasn't need at all.

"If we knew the Loya Jirga would happen this way we would never have come," said Nematullah Mohseb from Mazar-e-Sharif. "It's a joint plan by the United States, the Karzai administration and the United Nations to confuse us so they can escape making decisions on important issues."

Outside the main tent there were three more tents. One of them was furnished with mattresses and pillows and is presumably where president-elect Hamid Karzai met various governors and groups of delegates on Sunday night to try and persuade them to accept proposals for the Shura council.

It was noticeable that a lot of the male delegates sat in tribal or regional Groups, while their female counterparts chatted to each other, apparently less bound by such loyalties and affiliations.

Samander Khan is an IWPR trainee journalist.

Afghanistan
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