Over the last few days, more than 1,500 delegates have gathered in Kabul for Afghanistan’s loya jirga, or grand council, which will choose a new interim government to rule the country for 18 months when Hamid Karzai’s administration expires June 22. The Independent reported that the council will convene in a giant air-conditioned tent—”the sort used for Munich beer festivals”—that has been equipped with closed-circuit television, translation facilities, and other modern conference amenities. The council, which should have opened Monday, was delayed for at least 24 hours; France’s Le Monde offered the official explanation for the late start—more delegates arrived than had been expected—but the London Times’ correspondent said that behind-the-scenes wrangling to craft a “secret deal” was to blame.
The Times said the loya jirga will be “fractious, chaotic and probably violent. The procedure is ill-disciplined and the outcome unclear. But it offers Afghanistan the best hope for years of ending over two decades of civil war and choosing a government and constitution that will better represent the warring factions.” Most of the criticism of the gathering focused on the presence of warlords and criminals in the assembly; the Independent’s Robert Fisk described them as “gangsters, murderers, and stooges used to endorse Bush’s vision of ‘democracy.’ ” An op-ed contributed to the International Herald Tribune by a Human Rights Watch researcher claimed that “many of [the] delegates have been handpicked by warlords determined to defend regional fiefdoms” and reported several instances of intimidation and fraud in the selection process. The Sydney Morning Herald noted that beyond Kabul’s city limits, “guarded for now by thousands of international troops, anarchy reigns, crime is rampant and warlords again hold sway in many places where the Taliban at least brought their own harsh brand of law and order.” The United Nations’ special envoy to Afghanistan told the Nation of Pakistan, “[T]aking everything into consideration after nearly 30 years of conflict, the process is truly representative and much, much better than we could have hoped for.”
The News International of Pakistan declared that the loya jirga “could be anything from a solemn concourse committed to seek consensus solutions to national problems, to confusion, discord and failure to complete the agenda before the session ends.” The editorial warned that Western experts appeared to have had “excessive input” in drawing up the blueprint for the assembly, “making the whole exercise [seem] almost stage-managed,” and fretted that there was a danger of “introducing too many western concepts into the political, economic and social systems which are not likely to be in sync with Afghan thinking.”
After listing the flaws in the system, an editorial in the London Times concluded that the convention could, nevertheless, succeed, as long as it pursued a realistic agenda, aimed for a better representation of Afghanistan’s ethnic mix, and bolstered central authority. “The warlords and ambitious factional leaders cannot be allowed to break up the assembly. … Haggling may sell carpets but will not create governments. No one should be allowed to leave the tent until a chance for a new future has been secured.”