Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Loya Jirga Brings Hope of Stability

Khost citizens hope upcoming Loya Jirga will help to bring an end to local factional fighting.
By Gul Bahar

The clans from around the eastern Afghan city of Khost who gathered late last month to choose delegates for the Loya Jirga, the national assembly that is to appoint the nation's next government, were left in doubt about the need for the creation of a strong central authority.

As they met in Khost, the capital of the eponymous province, which borders Pakistan, a local power struggle, simmering since the collapse of the Taleban, erupted into bloody fighting. Shooting between followers of the former governor of neighbouring Gardez Badshah Khan Zadran and the head of Khost security Mustafa Khan started on the afternoon of April 25 and did not end until the following morning.

Six people died and an unknown number were wounded in the latest episode of Khost's troubles, this time triggered by Badshah Khan's attempt to replace Mustafa Khan with one of his own men.

In an attempt to end the feuding, interim administration leader Hamid Karzai appointed Hakeem Tanniwall, an Afghan intellectual, as governor of the province.

"May God solve all the problems and end the power of the armed men," said a woman from the Tannai clan, one of the main Pashtun ethnic groups in the region, who had lost her son in fighting 10 years ago, following the battle that closed the city's sprawling bazaar.

While some regional leaders in areas such as Khost, where the former Taleban rulers were strong, might fear that Loya Jirga may not deliver the sort of representation in a future government that they expect, exhaustion with years of struggle has left many feeling that even if they lose out in the assembly it is crucial for cementing stability.

"We do not know what the Loya Jirga will do," said another Tannai member. "But we do know that war and the lack of unity is not good because it has destroyed our country.

"In this Loya Jirga they should first think about security and stability of Afghanistan and people should be chosen who really want the country to be peaceful and stable. As you can see, those with opposite ideas are making the people feel hopeless."

Khost was peaceful under the austere rule of the Taleban but since their defeat by the US-led forces, residents to their dismay have seen the city sinking back to the chaos of a decade ago. People had begun to describe Badshah Khan as a man willing to see endless fighting rather than lose power.

"This critical situation needs a Loya Jirga to solve all of the problems - and it will," said Haji Abdul Rahman, a former commander in the mujahedeen forces who battled the Soviet army in the 1980s and then each other in the early 1990s.

Regional clan members had gathered in the city of Khost to choose their representatives to the Afghan assembly, which is to decide on a successor to the Karzai-led administration that was appointed to rule for six months.

The 1,500 delegates to the Loya Jirga, including 300 women, will be a mix of local choices and selections by central government. Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun like the population of Khost, is widely expected to retain top position. The former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah - also a Pashtun - returned to the country last month for the first time in 29 years and will have a ceremonial role at the assembly.

However, there is widespread unease in Pashtun areas like Khost about the dominant role in the current administration enjoyed by cabinet members from the Tajik minority, who led the Northern Alliance forces in defeating the Taleban.

But the fighting here is a reminder that the power struggles are not just between ethnic groups. Local warlords divided the country into fiefdoms before and Afghans anxious for a return to normality fear it could happen again.

When the fight between the backers of Badshah Khan and Mustafa Khan ended, people again thronged the bazaar. However, they were nervous and openly said the government had to impose some order to prevent such turmoil becoming a way of life.

"I raise cattle for a living and my job is to look after them and keep them away from wolves and thieves," said Nemat Khan. "Our country also needs a person to save it from danger and this is the job of the Loya Jirga - they should choose a people who can take care of Afghanistan."

By Gul Bahar Gharwal is an Afghan journalist based in Peshawar who attended the IWPR journalism course