Afghans Gathering

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by Rod Nordland

New York Times

November 21, 2013

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The loya jirga is a venerable Afghan institution in which representatives of Afghan tribes are summoned, in the absence of formal government, to discuss issues of concern. Afghan rulers used them to ratify their rule whenever they seized power or expanded territory, because if there is one defining characteristic of a loya jirga, it is that it rarely says no…

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That has certainly been the case of the five loya jirgas summoned in the past decade. The first of those, an emergency jirga in 2002, elected Hamid Karzai as president. He was also the choice of the international community, which supported him for interim leadership and had effectively convened that loya jirga…

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Another loya jirga that began in 2003 ratified the present Afghan Constitution  — and also set out the terms of what in the future would constitute a loya jirga, or grand assembly, specifying that it included all members of Parliament, as well as district and provincial council chairmen…

US soldier in Afghanistan

Mr. Karzai, who has openly expressed his longing to be seen as a champion of Afghan tradition, has been particularly fond of loya jirgas, convening four of them, including the present one. This one was billed as a “consultative loya jirga,” because it did not actually fulfill the strict constitutional requirements of a loya jirga, since the delegates, all chosen either directly or indirectly by the president and his aides, were a more numerous and diverse group than specified in the Constitution, including tribal elders, civic groups, and many other nongovernmental figures…

Afghan Warriors

Two of Mr. Karzai’s previous jirgas discussed peace, and the most recent one, in 2011, affirmed the government’s support for a strategic agreement with the United States — the precursor to the present security agreement being discussed this week…

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Critics of loya jirgas say the one now underway, expected to conclude on Sunday, is doubly undemocratic. First: as a consultative loya jirga it is chosen by the government outside of constitutional rules. And second: why have a loya jirga in a country that now has an elected Parliament?

Samiullah Sameem, a member of Parliament from Farah Province, supports the security agreement. But he refused his invitation to the jirga. “It is undemocratic and symbolic,” he said. “With democratic institutions like Parliament, there is no need for jirgas.”

“The jirga delegates will endorse what the government tells them to endorse,” said Jawed Kohistani, a political analyst. The jirga’s deliberations are broken down into 50 committees, he said, each headed by a government loyalist. The only way the jirga is likely to say no to a security agreement with the Americans, he said, is if Mr. Karzai wants it to say no…

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Aimal Faizi, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, disagrees, saying that the jirga organizers cast a wide net, sending out some 3,000 invitations. There are 2,500 attendees. All members of Parliament and local government officials down to the district level were among the invitees, as well as representatives of the Taliban — who did not come — and other opponents of the president, some of whom did. Most mainstream opposition figures, however, either were not invited or boycotted the event…

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In his opening speech, Mr. Karzai encouraged the delegates to vote their consciences. “I want you to make your decision independently,” he said. “Whoever comes to you and claims to be my representative, don’t believe them.”

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Afghan

art and photos gathered by

Rawclyde!

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