Jirga Delegates Get Sidetracked

Delegates struggle to stick to the order of business at another chaotic session of the grand assembly.

Jirga Delegates Get Sidetracked

Delegates struggle to stick to the order of business at another chaotic session of the grand assembly.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

The first day of real debate at the Loya Jirga was characterised by yet more glorious chaos.

Delegates veered from the official agenda to discuss assembly procedures

; whether there was foreign interference in Afghan politics; the place of mujahedin in the new Afghanistan; the national anthem; and virtually anything else that came to mind.

The assembly's first order of business - to elect its own head or chairman - went on late into the night, with lively debate punctuated by occasional uproar.

Earlier, after an armed stand off between ISAF troops and former bodyguards of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the former increased their presence in and around the assembly compound and units of the Afghan National Guard took up positions around Kabul.

But the day passed off peacefully and both ISAF and Wali Massoud, the brother of the assassinated Northern Alliance leader, dismissed the incident as "small and quickly resolved".

Business started a 9 am local time, an hour after the official start of proceedings, but delegates soon got into their stride.

Speeches were briefly cut in the late morning when Hashmat Ghani

Ahmadzai, a Pashtun tribal leader, accused the chairman of the Loya Jirga

Ismael Qassimyar of being ineffectual.

"I know you. You didn't do anything ( for the assembly)," said Ahmadzai, who declared he would stand against Qassimyar for the post of head of the assembly. "You didn't even let anyone get into your office. I entered your office by force."

Another uproar from the floor in the afternoon led Qassimyar to adjourn the

session early, to give the 1650 delegates a chance to cool off.

By late evening Qassimyar, Ahmadzai and Wassif Azizullah, a retired

professor from Kandahar, were the three candidates for the job of Jirga

chairman. The debate and vote seemed set to go on late into the night.

At different times, there were eight or nine people contesting the post. However,

the others, including ex-president Sibghatullah Mojadadi, Ustad

Sayaf, the leader of the Itehad-e-Islami, withdrew - but not

before launching a forceful defence of the culture of jihad which had

ended the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

"You must respect the mujahedin. Without them, we would never have defeated

the Red Army," he said.

There were still mumblings of discontent, particularly among delegates from

the Pashtun ethnic group, about Monday's announcement by American

representative Zalmay Khalilzad that ex-king Zahir Shah would not run for political office.

"We do not want any foreign interference, from the UN, the Americans or

anyone else," declared Wasif Azizullah. Like many other delegates throughout

the day, he also questioned the number of voting delegates in the

Loya Jirga tent.

IWPR trainee journalists covering the Loya Jirga are Mir Enyatullah, Hafizullah Gardesh, Samander Khan, Daneesh Kerokhil and Abdel Wali Saadat.

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