Tuesday, September 16, 2003

IRAQI LOYA JIRGA: Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, informs us about the preparation of drafting a new constitution and holding elections.

Fuad Masum, head of the Preparatory Committee for the Iraqi Constitution, announced Sunday that his committee's report would be out at the end of September. The committee sees two principal ways of proceeding toward an elected constitutional convention. One would be to hold town meeting style elections in each of the 19 provinces, producing 150 delegates, with perhaps 10 delegates chosen by Muslim clerics. The other way would be to do a census first, creating electoral rolls. Masum said that this way of proceeding would take two years, according to most experts.
The very first thing that came in my mind was "Loya Jirga."

A little bit of background on Loya Jirga.

In Pashto, the word "Loya" means great and "Jirga" stands for council or meeting. (I don't speak Pashto, just Dari. A phone call to my mother, who does speak Pashto, had to be made.) Legend has it that when it was time to select a King for the newly urbanized Aryan tribes, some five thousand years ago, a great council of herdsmen, horsemen, farmers and craftsmen and women was held in the open air. It was during this council that an eagle appeared from the heavens and put a crown on the head of Yama the first King in the first city the Aryans had built south of the River Oxus. More Afghan Loya Jirgas have been "recorded" ranging from Emperor Kanishka's measures to reform Buddhism to Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Genghis convened a number of other Loya Jirgas and his last one was in 1221 in Samarkent. In Afghan history, Loya Jirgas have been called to decide on great and sometimes grave national issues. Usually the rulers have convened the Jirgas. The first Loya Jirga in recent Afghan history occurred in 1928 convened by King Amanullah and the nullification of the same by the proceeding Administration of King Nadir Shah.

Central to the process of installing a democracy in Afghanistan, laid out in the Bonn agreement, was the convening of an Emergency Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan Grand Council. Traditionally, tribal elders and political leaders attend Loya Jirgas. Afghans place a lot of confidence in their elders for their experience. Local tribal and even village leaders are selected because of their long-standing service, age and family status. The Bonn meeting resulted in an agreement that a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) would be held in June of 2002 to determine the composition of a more permanent government structure. Did it turn out to be a New England Town Meeting-style, democratic debate about the future of the Afghan nation? Uhm, no. All it did was legitimize everything that was decided before hand. In no way was it traditional or legitimate, no matter how you spin it.

Under the German beer tent in Kabul a lot of things happened: violence, vote-buying, manipulation, money, threats, you name it. Zalmay Khalilizad was Bush's enjoy who had to take care of everything. Khalilzad (worked for Unocal, neo-con) was the same man who apologized in a Washington Post editorial in 1999 saying that the Taliban "does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran." He continued by saying that the U.S. "should be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction." He was a Taliban-apologist and not a man of principle, evidently.

So the Loya Jirga summoned in Kabul and about 1600 delegates showed up. Everyone wanted former King Mohammed Zahir Shah (overthrown by cousin Daoud Khan and the Communists while enjoying Rome in 1964) because he was the only one respected and with enough support who could force the warlords into submission. Khalilizad did what he could behind the scene. The outcome? "This is a rubber stamp. Everything has already been decided by the powerful ones. Everything seems to have been decided. But we don't need anyone to decide for us. We have had enough of foreign interference in our country." Female delegates said that. They were given a voice but nobody listened. Karzai was confirmed; the same for the Cabinet and that was it.

What does this have to do with Iraq? Everything. Or nothing. Is Paul Bremer another Khalilzad? It's what I'm afraid of, but Afghanistan and Iraq are very, very different. Iraq's majority is Shiite, while Afghanistan is Sunni. Iraq is an Arab country, while Afghanistan is not. Let's just hope the Bush administration is serious about democracy. True democracy...


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