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First Session of Afghan Loya Jirga Delayed - 2002-06-10

The first session of Afghanistan's elective council, which was to open Monday, was put off for a day amid wrangling over the role of the former king in the next government. The former monarch himself says he has no interest in any political position.

With the current chairman of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, beside him, ex-king Zahir Shah distanced himself from the effort to make him head of the next government.

In a statement Zahir Shah said late Monday he is not a candidate for any office. The elderly former monarch, who was deposed in 1973, publicly threw his support to Mr. Karzai to head the interim administration that is to govern Afghanistan for the next 18 months. "As I have always mentioned, I have no intention of restoring the monarchy, and I am not a candidate for any position in the Emergency Loya Jirga," he said. "My sole aim is to serve the suffering people of Afghanistan. I am appreciative of the valuable services rendered by Mr. Hamid Karzai, chairman of the interim administration, and fully support his candidacy as head of the interim administration."

The Loya Jirga, or grand council, was to have opened Monday to choose the government leader and cabinet. But it was announced that the opening session was to be put off for one day, ostensibly for "logistical reasons."

However, it quickly became clear that the primary reason was political machination.

Mr. Karzai has been considered the odds-on favorite to head the next administration, which is to be chosen by the Loya Jirga. Mr. Karzai is a Pashtun, which is Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. But the key ministries in the interim administration defense, interior, and security are in the hands of the Northern Alliance, the Tajik and Uzbek-dominated faction that drove the Taleban from power.

The Northern Alliance is backing Mr. Karzai to stay in office, in return for holding onto key ministries. But, according to political observers here, Pashtuns are grumbling that Mr. Karzai has given too much power to the Northern Alliance. So, say analysts, a movement was started to install Zahir Shah.

In an interview with VOA, Ahmed Wali Masood brother of assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood and himself a key Northern Alliance figure, says some cabinet members started a pro-king movement in the Loya Jirga to push Mr. Karzai aside and retain their own power. "The close associates, some of the close associates of the king who are the members of the present cabinet know that they will leave their jobs," he said. "And that's why you can see this very strong sort of somehow some kind of threat or campaign or propaganda for the former king in order to fail the Loya Jirga itself for their own personal advantages."

While the attention has focussed on the political machinations, the Loya Jirga has been plagued by organizational problems, which also contributed to the delay. Officials say many people are showing up at the Loya Jirga site claiming to be delegates, but their bona fides are not in order. The final delegate list, officials say, was still being finalized Monday.