The South Asia Channel

Afghan views on the Loya Jirga

Today the Afghan government convenes its "traditional Loya Jirga," or grand assembly, despite mounting criticism from members of Parliament, political opponents of the current administration and many Afghan people. Two thousand people were expected to be in Kabul for the assembly. In the past, the Afghan regimes would call a Loya Jirga over different national issues; however, the ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Today the Afghan government convenes its "traditional Loya Jirga," or grand assembly, despite mounting criticism from members of Parliament, political opponents of the current administration and many Afghan people. Two thousand people were expected to be in Kabul for the assembly.

In the past, the Afghan regimes would call a Loya Jirga over different national issues; however, the new constitution has limited the launch of Loya Jirgas. According to Article 110 of the Constitution, such a meeting is the highest expression of the people of Afghanistan. But based on Article 111, it can be convened only in specific situations: to make decisions on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the supreme interests of the country, to amend certain provisions of the Constitution, and to prosecute the President in accordance with Article 69 of the Constitution.

One Afghan lawyer, Sayed Sharif told me, "[The Loya Jirga] is totally against the Constitution. We have an active parliament in place; thus there is no need for a traditional Loya Jirga." He continued, "Due to systemic corruption within the Afghan government, there is an unbridgeable distance between the people and the government. Measures such as holding the Loya Jirga will definitely widen the distrust between the Afghan people and the government."

The main topics for discussion at the Loya Jirga are expected to be Afghanistan’s strategic partnership with the United States and possible reconciliation with the country’s insurgency. "The Afghan government should have approached Parliament to decide about our strategic partnership," Sharif stated.

Waheed Akbari, a member of the Afghan Women Skill Development Center, a local NGO, agrees. "If the government continues to ignore the role of Parliament, there will be no need for this body [parliament] to exist. Ignoring the role of Parliament means enhancing the establishment of a totalitarian regime," he added. "This so-called traditional Loya Jirga is unconstitutional. The government should be responsible for the expenses of the Loya Jirga and any other possible consequences from it, such as escalation of clashes between the government and the Afghan Parliament and any further tribal conflicts."

While some Afghan officials, such as Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the senior security advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, have argued that the Loya Jirga plays a consultative role (and would thus not be in violation of the Constitution), some analysts — including Afghan parliamentarians — have expressed their concerns about the possible executive role of the Jirga.

Ghulam Sarwar Fayez, a member of parliament (MP) from the northern province of Badghis, opposes the Loya Jirga.  "I have a strong fear that the government will implement the decisions made by the Jirga," he said."Most members of the Jirga have been selected by government officials both at the provincial and district level; thus it is natural that the members will follow instructions of the government." Fayez added that approval for the strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan should occur within the proper legal framework, namely the Parliament, rather than gaining approval from people beholden to or dependent on Karzai and his associates.

Ramatullah Turkistani, the head of the provincial council of the Northern Province of Faryab, also considers the Loya Jirga unconstitutional. According to Turkistani, "The traditional Loya Jirga practically negates the existing Constitution and Afghan Parliament. The government has invited its supporters from across the country, and tends to impose its wishes on them. But any decision of the upcoming Jirga will not be implemented, because it has no legal basis. Thus, not only is it an unconstitutional act, but also waste of time and resources."

Although Turkistani does not support the traditional Jirga, he is strongly in favor of strategic partnership with the U.S. "provided this partnership ensures the national interest of Afghanistan and is approved by the Afghan Parliament — not through an unconstitutional Loya Jirga."

The relationship between the Parliament and government has been antagonistic from the beginning. In many cases, the government has directly ignored the demands of the MPs, including by introducing the new cabinet ministers; for the past two years, seven Afghan ministries have been led by acting ministers, in violation of the Constitution. And the government has patently ignored the objections of many MPs to tomorrow’s Jirga.

Sayed Zaman Hashemi, another Afghan lawyer and political analyst, echoed Turkistani’s fears about the makeup and legality of the Jirga. "A large number of the Loya Jirga members will attend from southern Afghanistan, and many of them have sympathy for the insurgents or a similar outlook to the Taliban. What will happen if they demand the immediate withdrawal of international troops?" He concluded that,"such a potential demand will ensure the interests of Iran and Pakistani, who do not want Afghanistan to have a long-term partnership with the United States. This will lead the country to be again under the control of neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, a country which not only supports insurgents, but also provoke them to sabotage stability in Afghanistan." This concern about the ethnic and geographical dimension of the Jirga is shared by many northerners and non-Pashtuns, who see the Jirga as a Pashtun tradition that could further entrench elements unfriendly to the minorities, or lead to a deal with the mostly Pashtun Taliban that would put the gains made by minorities over the past decade in danger.

Pawiz Kawa, an Afghan reporter and political analyst, told me, "I welcome any initiation through which Afghans are consulted on important national issues like the strategic partnership." But Kawa went on to state his opposition to the Jirga on legal grounds, saying that, "The Afghan people at large will not welcome the outcome of the Loya Jirga. Afghanistan has a functioning Parliament, thus, there is no need to call a Loya Jirga."

Kawa also supports Afghanistan’s strategic partnership with the U.S. "My personal expectation of the partnership is to improve and enhance the government’s institutions and to ensure the national interest of Afghanistan-not just the national interest of the U.S. Strong Afghan institutions will pave a clear path for proper ‘give and take’ for both countries. If we continue to have weak institutions in Afghanistan, the strategic agreement will turn out to be a useless document."

He also asked the international community, particularly the U.S., to focus on interests of the Afghan people-not just the few who hold government positions.

Overall, many Afghans want Afghanistan to sign a strategic partnership with the United States, provided that the national interests of their country are ensured. However, most of those I spoke with want the agreement to be approved by the Afghan parliament, which for all of its problems still represents the Afghan people. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the Loya Jirga, but considering the strong resistance within the Afghan parliament and political opposition of the government, it seems that the upcoming Loya Jirga will negatively impact the fragile democracy and further increase instability in Afghanistan.

Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.

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