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Afghan Commission Sets Loya Jirga Rules - 2002-04-01

The emergency council that will choose Afghanistan's new interim government is to be held in June. A special commission Sunday released the rules under which delegates to the council are to be chosen. However there are lingering concerns about the security of the electoral process.

With a national army and police force still in training, a central government with little authority outside the capital, and the continued refusal of international peacekeepers to expand their writ outside of Kabul, there are concerns that local warlords may try influence the outcome of the Loya Jirga at gunpoint.

The Loya Jirga, or grand council, will be held in Kabul June 10-16. Nearly 1,500 delegates will gather to choose an interim government which will, in turn, draft a new constitution and prepare for elections.

A 21-member commission charged with writing rules and procedures for the council released their criteria Sunday. Delegates are to be indirectly elected on the basis of population from about 350 local districts. There are also to be some 400 delegates selected from various groups in Afghan society, such as refugees and exiles, nomads, intellectuals, and educators. In a break with the past, women are guaranteed at least 160 seats, and a minimum of six seats are allocated to Islamic scholars.

But after 23 years of war and civil strife, there is no up to date, reliable demographic data on Afghanistan. Western analysts say the seat allocation, which they say is, drawn from questionable data, may serve to heighten ethnic and tribal divisions.

Power in local areas is in the hands of local warlords, many of whom have their own private armies. It is expected that they will want the population to choose their handpicked candidates to the Loya Jirga, and will have little compunction about using violence and intimidation to get their way.

The interim administration of Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded for international peacekeepers to deploy outside of Kabul to guarantee security for the Loya Jirga selection process. But the international community has balked at such a move.

The commission has been vague about how the integrity of the electoral process for the Loya Jirga will be safeguarded. In an interview with VOA prior to Sunday's announcement, commission chairman Ismail Qasimyar pledged that everything possible will be done to ensure security, but he gave no details. But he noted that the commission is relying on the good will of the warlords. "Even those warlords of yesterday, today they are not the ones that they were yesterday," he said. "Their attitudes have changed. They feel they will be isolated from this caravan of peace, you know, which is going forward. So they want also to adapt themselves to this prevailing process."

Mr. Qasimyar said he hopes the gunmen realize that they have a stake in Afghanistan's reconstruction. "If this reconstruction process starts, so the people have a chance to lay down their arms and pick up tools, working tools, you know, so they start construction and earning money so they can live on such earning," he said. "We think that reconstruction is the heart of this political transition that has been started."

The Loya Jirga is Afghanistan's chance to break with its violent past. It is also a test whether the country's political transition is far enough advanced to keep the warlords and their gunmen from torpedoing Afghanistan's hopes for rebirth.