Afghan loya jirga convenes Monday
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Tribal leaders from across Afghanistan convene here Monday afternoon for a loya jirga, the traditional Afghan tribal council that will determine the next government for the war-ravaged nation.
The council was scheduled to begin Monday morning, but Afghan officials said the start time had been delayed, without giving an explanation.
The creation of the loya jirga is in accordance with an agreement hammered out among leaders of Afghan factions in Bonn, Germany, late last year, to build a post-Taliban Afghan government.
The loya jirga itself is an assembly of 1,501 elected and appointed delegates who make up Afghanistan's U.N.-installed interim leadership, led by Hamid Karzai, 44.
The loya jirga will meet in a large tent in Kabul over the coming days to select a new government with representatives of different ethnic groups, tribes and religions.
The loya jirga, which means "grand council," is "a political institution that Afghans have had for centuries," Karzai said in January. "It's a powerful institution that Afghans will listen to."
Key players in the new Afghan government include the Western-backed Karzai, leader of the Pashtun Popalzai tribe, and former King Mohammad Zahir Shah, 87, seen as a unifying force for many but too ill to take an active role. Some tribal leaders have pressed for his son or grandson to take part in his place.
Among the other candidates are tribal leaders, doctors, lawyers and politicians, as well as ordinary men. Perhaps the most significant new participants in the government are women, who will serve their country for the first time.
Women already are among the delegates to the loya jirga. Members of Afghanistan's interim government say they are committed to changing Taliban rules that forbade women to work, attend school, or even vote.
"This is a positive thing for Afghanistan," said Fatima Naimy, who was nominated by the other women in her remote mountain village so she could help girls in their impoverished Bamiyan province. The first thing Afghanistan needs, she said, is to rid itself of men who rule with guns.
One of the more controversial delegates is Commander Padsha Khan Zadran, who warns that the country will revert to bloodshed unless his choice for power -- the ex-king or one of Shah's descendants -- wins.
Shah was deposed while on a trip to Italy in 1973 when his brother-in-law, Mohammad Daud Khan, proclaimed Afghanistan a republic and himself president. The former monarch lived in exile in Rome until April, when he finally returned to his homeland vowing peace and democracy for Afghanistan.
Despite harassment, intimidation, bribery, and even a killing during the voting to elect loya jirga members, U.N. officials say the elections proceeded fairly well.
"As you know, this country has just come out of 23 years of conflict and it's very hard to know or give evidence of who is guilty and who is not," said U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
A major challenge of the new government will be representing Afghanistan's many fractured ethnic groups -- such as the Pashtuns, Shiites, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks -- which have fought with one another through the years over property and land.
Some hostility among the groups remains, even though those who formed the interim council in Germany last year tried to balance the factions and create a multi-ethnic government.
According to the Germany agreement, "the Emergency loya jirga shall decide on a Transitional Authority, including a broad-based transitional administration to lead Afghanistan until such time as a fully representative government can be elected through free and fair elections to be held no later than two years from the date of the convening of the Emergency loya jirga."
The agreement also says "a Constitutional loya jirga shall be convened within eighteen months of the establishment of the Transitional Authority, in order to adopt a new constitution for Afghanistan. In order to assist the Constitutional loyal jirga prepare the proposed Constitution, the Transitional Administration shall, within two months of its commencement and with the assistance of the United Nations, establish a Constitutional Commission."
International peacekeepers now deployed in Afghanistan will provide security for the loya jirga, according to the British general in charge of the forces. (Full story)
The loya jirga is scheduled to end June 16. If no decisions have been made by then, a provision allows delegates to extend their session until June 22. That date is final because it marks the end of the six-month mandate of the Karzai-led interim government.
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