Loya Jirga: Afghanistan Awaits its Future

The last time Ismail Qasimyar was in Kabul, the winds whistled with the sounds of rockets and the streets were filled with shrapnel and the bodies of dead and wounded civilians.

That was almost a decade ago, when Afghanistan's communist regime had collapsed — and the mujahideen leaders who had ousted it agreed to a power-sharing deal for the transitional period.

Qasimyar, a constitutional scholar, was a key architect of that agreement, but it didn't satisfy everyone. In particular, it upset Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord and major figure in the anti-Soviet resistance.

Hekmatyar's protest came in the form of sustained shelling, which left thousands dead, even more fleeing Kabul, and, some scholars say, left the door open for a Taliban invasion four years later.

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Among Kabul's exiles was Qasimyar, who spent the following years in Iran. Now, with the Taliban all but defeated, and Hekmatyar virtually impotent in exile, Qasimyar is back.

He has returned as the chairman of the 21-member Loya Jirga Commission, charged with creating the rules for the grand assembly that will, in two weeks, decide Afghanistan's next government.

"After 23 years of silence, [the Afghan people] should have this opportunity to ensure their rights," Qasimyar said.

'Dangers Are Grave'

With his platinum locks swept back over his head, and his neatly trimmed beard, Qasimyar looks every bit the accomplished legal scholar — and Afghanistan will need no less to usher in its future.

In a recent report, the International Crisis Group warned that "visions of a great leap forward in reconciliation are misplaced, and the danger of missteps is grave."

The biggest obstacle faced by the loya jirga will be satisfying the complex demands of representation presented by the country's diverse population.

Among those who have the most at stake in the upcoming council are the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. Pashtuns have complained that the interim administration in Kabul, headed by Hamid Karzai, contains too many former members of the Northern Alliance, which was primarily made up of members of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities.

Supporters of the interim administration argue that they deserve their positions, because they helped the United States oust the Taliban — and the Pashtuns comprised the majority of Taliban forces.

Nevertheless, the Pashtuns claim that because of their number, they are entitled to a bigger role in Afghanistan's government. They note that successive governments imposed on Afghanistan from abroad led to much of the suffering that exists today, and that the international community has expressed its determination to create for Afghanistan a government of its own.

That desire for an indigenous government has even more problems, noted Abdul-Rahem Yaseer, Assistant Director of the Center for Afghan studies at the University of Nebraska.

Not only must the loya jirga satisfactorily represent the country's various minorities, it must also negotiate between a government comprised of exiles that are educated enough to handle the demands of government, and natives who know their country's misery first-hand.

The exiles are the elite, the best-educated, Yasser said, "but the people inside, they say '[the exiles] have been away from the culture a long time, and there have been lots of changes in Afghan mentality, education, experiences."

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