Published on 13 Nov 2011 at 09:22
The Afghan government says it wants to elicit the views of the people; critics argue that the Loya Jirga is a waste of time and money.
The Afghan government is now preparing to hold a traditional Loya Jirga in Kabul on November 16, to discuss important issues facing the country. More than 2,000 delegates are expected to attend.
“The Afghan government has decided to conduct a traditional Loya Jirga to consult with the representatives of the Afghan people on the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement,” said Safia Sediqi, the spokeswoman for the organizing committee of the Jirga. “The two sides have already reached some consensus.”
Safia Sediqi the Jirga Organizing Committee Spokeswoman
Other issues on the table include reconciliation with the Taliban. Peace talks have been stalled lately, and some agreement on a peace-building mechanism is needed.
According to Afghanistan’s Constitution, Loya Jirga is “the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan,” and is called upon to discuss issues of independence, national sovereignty, and vital national interests.
The questions of reconciliation with the Taliban, as well as the status of American bases in Afghanistan, would seem to fall into those categories.
But there could be trouble brewing. The Afghan Parliament, which has been at loggerheads with the executive branch since it began work last year has declared the Loya Jirga illegal. The majority of representatives of the Wolesi Jirga, or Lower House of Parliament, have said that they will not attend.
“A traditional Loya Jirga has no legal basis,” said Shah Abdulahad Afzali, an MP from Badakhshan. “This Jirga cannot make any decisions about the important issues facing the country. For this reason, the Wolesi Jirga is against it and majority of our colleagues will not participate.”
But Sediqi, the Jirga’s spokesperson, dismisses the argument.
Shah Abdulahad Afzali: “A traditional Loya Jirga has no legal basis."
“Based on Article 65 of the Constitution, the president has the right to conduct a referendum to discuss important issues,” she said. “Representatives of the people of Afghanistan will come together and give their opinion about two important questions: how to establish a peace-building mechanism, and the signing of the Afghan – U.S. Strategic Partnership Agreement.
“The Jirga has a consultative aspect, and the executive and the legislature have the right to decide about the Jirga’s recommendations,” added Sediqi.
But critics of the Jirga point out that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has various advisors from different ethnic groups and there are many legal institutions to consult with when he wants to discuss about the country’s important issues. They say there is no need to waste money and time holding an illegal jirga.
Also, legal experts say that Article 65 does not apply to a traditional Loya Jirga.
“The Afghan Constitution stipulates the procedure for a referendum very clearly,” said Faizullah Jalal, lecturer in the political science department of Kabul University. “The members of this Jirga cannot represent the people of Afghanistan, because the majority of the participants are selected by President Karzai and his working group.”
According to Afghan law, said Jalal, a traditional Loya Jirga has no legal basis, but the president wants to use it to achieve his personal goals.
Those goals, say Jalal, include demonstrating to the West that Karzai is in control. Many of the president’s backers have expressed dissatisfaction or disappointment with him recently; bringing together key figures would show that Karzai still wields significant power.
Karzai also wants to isolate the legislature, added Jalal. The Parliament has been extremely critical of the Afghan president, and using a traditional Loya Jirga instead of allowing the legislature to exercise its rights and responsibilities would weaken the Parliament’s role in decision-making.
“We know that it is within the purview of the parliament to make decisions about strategic agreements with foreign countries,” said Jalal. “But with this Jirga, President Karzai wants to show America that he is the key decision-maker in Afghanistan. He wants to let the United States know that they must accept his demands in order to pave the way for signing a strategic partnership agreement on the establishment of permanent bases on Afghan soil.”
Parliamentarians seem to be feeling the slight quite keenly.
“The aim of the traditional Loya Jirga is to weaken the role of the Wolesi Jirga and other legal entities.”
“The aim of the traditional Loya Jirga is to weaken the role of the Wolesi Jirga and other legal entities,” said Asadullah Sadaati, spokesperson for the Parliamentary Rule of Law Coalition. “Parliamentarians have decided not to attend this Jirga, and those who stand against the legal decisions of the Parliament are showing disrespect of the legislature.”
Sadiqi denies such allegations, saying that hundreds of lawmakers have already completed the attendance forms for the Jirga.
The Afghan government is insisting that the main goal of the Jirga is to establish a peace-building mechanism and to give the green light to the signing of the the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the United States. But critics believe that the government’s real aim in conducting the Jirga is to demonstrate its legitimacy to its foreign backers in advance of the Bonn 2 conference, which is scheduled to be held in Germany in early December.
In Bonn, the Afghan government will be called upon to explain its achievements over the past ten years, and to convince donor countries that it has the support of the people.
“By holding such a jirga before the ‘Bonn 2’ conference, the Afghan government wants to show the international community that it represents the majority of the people of Afghanistan, and that the demands of the government are the same as the demands of the people of Afghanistan,” said Jalal.
But Sediqi argues that the only aim of the Jirga is to consult with people of Afghanistan on establishing a peace building-mechanism and signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement.
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