A Loya Jirga or not a Loya Jirga: The Significance of a Name

By Janan Mosazai (in Afghanistan)

The Afghan government recently announced the dates (May 7-9, although still subject to change) for a consultative assembly in Kabul under the general rubric of negotiations with the armed opposition in the country.

An interesting and significant fact about this government-sponsored initiative is the evolution of its name over the past few months, especially since the London Conference on Afghanistan in January. During his inauguration speech after he won re-election by default in August of last year, President Karzai first called for a Loya Jirga to discuss the idea of making peace with the different insurgent groups, including the Taliban. For those who may not know the peculiarities of the institution of the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) within the existing constitutional set-up of Afghanistan, the constitution lays out specific details and procedures concerning the selection of delegates, quorum requirements, decision-making methodology, etc...

Article 111 of the Constitution states that a Loya Jirga ought to be held under three circumstances -- to amend the Constitution, to "prosecute" the President and to "take a decision on issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the supreme interests of the country." Peace is obviously a clear supreme interest for Afghanistan; most past Loya Jirgas have been held with the objective of ensuring peace and stability in the country.

But many here in Afghanistan believe the reason why the government has decided to drop the Loya Jirga descriptor for this assembly is mainly that it fears a majority of delegates might adopt decisions or resolutions on key issues that would be difficult for the government and international community to accept or implement. One such decision could be to require foreign troops to leave Afghanistan immediately or within a specified short-term timeframe. Another such theoritical scenario could be a resolution or decision to annul President Karzai's re-election. If such a decision were taken by the Loya Jirga and the government or international community refused to comply, it could further destabilize the already shaky political situation in the country.

I'll talk about an alternative view about the upcoming assembly in my next blog.

Janan Mosazai is a freelance journalist and civil society activist based in Kabul. He formerly worked as a political affairs officer with the United Nations in Afghanistan.

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