Panel Unveils Rules For Afghan Assembly


By Pamela Constable

Washington Post
April 1, 2002

In an important step for Afghanistan's political transition, an independent commission announced today the final plans and rules for a nationwide assembly in mid-June that will choose a new government to hold office for 18 months.

The week-long assembly, known as a loya jirga, will be virtually the first attempt in Afghanistan's modern history to choose a representative government, and it will follow a quarter-century of war, civil conflict and repressive religious rule.

The commission said that any Afghan -- including former members of the Taliban militia or armed political factions -- could be elected to the 1,500-member loya jirga, as long as he or she has no ties to terrorist groups and has not been involved in crime or human rights abuses.

It also said that to protect the process against violence or sabotage, U.N. and Afghan monitoring teams will be present at local elections for candidates, and that in extreme cases, the voting could be moved to safer locations in eight cities.

"Our endeavor has been aimed at ensuring the rights of the Afghan people to freely choose their own destiny and political future," Ismael Qasimyar, the commission chairman, said at a news conference. "We have done it without fear, and without feeling any pressure from anyone."

There has been widespread concern here that anti-democratic forces, including regional commanders of armed Islamic political groups, will attempt to dominate or undermine the loya jirga by forcing their candidates on the public or even launching violent attacks during elections.

Many Afghans had hoped that a multinational peacekeeping force now patrolling Kabul would be expanded across the country to ensure safety during the election process to take place in the weeks leading up to the assembly, which is scheduled for June 10-16. So far, peacekeeping officials have insisted their role will remain limited in size and scope.

But commission members and U.N. aides said they hoped the elaborate set of regulations and safeguards announced today would prevent sabotage, both by weeding out unsuitable candidates and by setting aside a large number of seats for prominent figures and minority groups.

The loya jirga participants will include several elected members from each of about 350 local districts, plus 400 selected representatives from groups of refugees, exiles, nomads, women, traders, Islamic clergy, intellectuals, educators and other professionals. It will also include the 21 commission members and 53 government officials.

Once all members have been chosen, the assembly will be free to debate and choose any form of transitional government for the following 18 months. That government, in turn, will prepare a new constitution and general elections.

"The effort has been to find the right balance between pragmatism and principle, and I think they've got it just about right," said Michael Semple, chief U.N. adviser to the commission.

Semple noted that all candidates must swear in writing that they have not been involved in crime, terrorism or murdering innocent people. Instead of conducting a "witch hunt," he said, the process ensures that "if you want to be in public life, you will have the sword of Damocles over your head."

Qasimyar said the commission decided not to broadly exclude members of any political groups, including the Taliban or other Islamic militias, even though many have been responsible for serious human rights abuses, including ethnic massacres, during the past decade. "If any individual or group meets the criteria, they have a right to become members," he said. "If there are some among the Taliban who fulfill the requirements, then they can come."

Qasimyar noted that all major political factions in Afghanistan agreed to hold the loya jirga when they met at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Bonn after the collapse of the Taliban in November. The current interim government, a coalition of such groups, was also established at the conference.

Throughout most of its history, Afghanistan has been ruled by a hereditary monarchy, but loya jirgas, meetings of tribal elders from across the country, have been held periodically to make decisions in times of crisis or political upheaval.

The commissioners said the next loya jirga would proceed on schedule, with or without Afghanistan's former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. Under the Bonn agreement, the long-exiled monarch, 87, is slated to open the loya jirga, and many Afghans have looked to him as a unifying symbol in the divided and bloodied country.

But Zahir Shah's expected return to Afghanistan from Rome has been postponed three times, and no firm new date has been set. The repeated delays have raised concerns here that the loya jirga itself might be postponed or crippled.

More Information on Afghanistan

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C íŸ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.