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

Suspicions of Jirga Stitch Up Mount

The Jirga’s rules are incomplete and unclear, but it’s hard to tell whether what is happening is being driven by chaos or design.
By the.iwpr

As the Loya Jirga begins what is hoped will be its final day, many delegates cannot shake off the feeling that they are being manipulated from behind the scenes - even if they do not know who is pulling the strings.

“We feel the issues have already been resolved and our presence is only needed as a rubber stamp,” said Assadullah, a delegate from Khost.

Paktika delegate Mohammad Hashim agreed. “They have been doing this themselves. They shouldn’t even have invited us,” he said.

With so many players involved in influencing the grand assembly, it is little wonder that such suspicion abounds.

In theory, the Jirga’s agenda is set by its commission, the assembly’s head, Ismaeel Qassimyar, and his secretariat, who were both elected last week.

In practice, it is more complicated.

The secretariat, the interim administration led by president-elect Karzai, and the United Nations under special representative Lakhdar Brahimi are all involved but it is impossible to grasp exactly what relations - both formal and informal - exist between them.

The UN describes its role as a technical support one and while it is the secretariat itself that determines the assembly’s agenda, persistent questioning by journalists has failed to reveal how that group is operating, and whom it is consulting.

Scenes of uncontrolled chaos on the floor may have distracted attention from the seemingly deliberate vagueness that has run through the assembly on a number of important issues.

First was the clearing of the way for Karzai as head of state. On June 10, the commission delayed the opening of the Jirga for a day, citing “technical and logistical” problems and stating specifically that not all delegates had arrived from remote parts of the country.

However, American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was more forthright. At the time, ex-king Zahir Shah had not confirmed if he was to stand for office and that uncertainty loomed over Karzai’s own bid to be head of state.

Khalilzad announced that Shah was not to run during the one-day postponement of the assembly. "The management of the Loya Jirga decided it would be prudent to delay 24 hours to ascertain the true position of the king,” he said.

This version of events was backed by the majority of delegates, who denied that the hold up was due to their colleagues not having arrived from the more far-flung areas of the country.

There was further confusion when Karzai was elected head of state. At the end of the first day, Qassimyar suggested the applause that greeted the interim leader’s opening speech meant that he had been chosen to lead the country for the next 18 months. But the assembly head refused say point blank whether he considered Karzai to have been elected or not.

Facing strident complaints from delegates on the floor, and expressions of concerns from diplomats, the commission later backtracked to say it was only Karzai’s candidacy that had been endorsed. An election by secret ballot duly took place with two other candidates on the list.

A third example is the continuing row over the structure of the new administration. Attendees have been debating how to choose a subset of the 1,650 Loya Jirga delegates to make up a Shura, or consultative chamber, which will monitor the policies of the transitional government until the next general election.

Most of the debate has focused on the implications of different suggestions for Afghanistan’s delicate ethnic balance. One proposal based on the country’s current administrative map of 32 provinces seems to favour the Pashtun group. A second hinges on the composition of the Jirga itself.

When the secretariat introduced the first proposal on Saturday, the attendees expected the vote to be over in three hours. However, with delegates unsure of Karzai’s position, the proceedings fell into disarray with scuffles on Saturday and a rushing of the stage on Sunday. Only then did the president-elect make it clear that he was committed to the original proposal.

He arrived at the Jirga compound on Sunday night to see if a compromise could be reached in talks with governors of different provinces in closed sessions and is due to speak to at gathering later on Monday.

But it is the fourth issue, the Loya Jirga’s role in choosing the key figures in the next government, which is potentially the most explosive.

The Bonn agreement states the duties of the assembly include “approval of proposals relating to the appointment of key personalities”. This is arguably the most important question the Jirga has to tackle, given the fact that while Karzai himself was always a clear popular choice for head of state, the precise balance between the assembly’s ethnic groups is highly controversial.

The conference’s rules have been interpreted to mean that Karzai must consult it on the three key ministries of defence, interior and foreign affairs. But Omar Samad, a member of the assembly’s commission, on Sunday challenged this reading of the regulations.

The Jirga’s rules are incomplete and unclear, but it’s hard to tell whether what is happening is being driven by chaos or design.

The assembly’s commission selected 600 out of the 1,650 delegates - the remainder was elected in local ballots across the country. However, there has been no publication of a list of those permitted to vote

Qassimyar has said there are 1,650 delegates but other leaders and politicians still refer to different numbers, such as the 1,501 originally envisaged, or sometimes 1,550. There is no list available to compare the initial members with the current list to see who those last-minute additions were.

Even the process of who gets to speak is far from transparent. One delegate from outside Kabul, who was threatened and beaten by the henchmen of a local warlord after he publicly criticised him, told IWPR that he has not been able to speak so far.

“The governors of each province decide which delegates speak from their province. And so far, they have been choosing selected delegates, not elected ones,” he said.

This report was compiled by IWPR trainees Mir EnyatullahSaada, Hafizullah Gardesh, Samander Khan, Daneesh Kerokhil and Abdel Wali.