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Afghanistan: Karzai Vows To Hasten Aid Flows, Create Jobs

  • Charles Recknagel

The president of Afghanistan's new Transitional Authority, Hamid Karzai, vowed today to use his term in office to hasten the flow of economic aid to the country and to create jobs. The promises come a day after Karzai was overwhelmingly endorsed for the post by the emergency Loya Jirga.

Kabul, 14 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Hamid Karzai was in a victorious mood today just hours after Afghanistan's emergency Loya Jirga overwhelmingly endorsed him to be president of the country's new Transitional Authority.

Karzai, the 44-year-old chairman of the outgoing interim administration, won 1,295 votes from the Loya Jirga delegates in a secret poll late yesterday. Two rival candidates, who mounted purely symbolic challenges, won just some 250 votes between them. The bulk of those went to Masooda Jalal, a female doctor who is currently an administrator with the United Nation's World Food Program.

Appearing before the press today, Karzai said the Loya Jirga process had proved itself to be democratic and unifying in a country torn by more than two decades of warfare. "As for the proceedings of the Loya Jirga, I am quite happy. There was a lot of politicking going on...and it was a real show of democracy. I was always confident of the maturity of the Afghan people and I kept telling the world if the Afghans are given a chance they will put on a good show," Karzai said.

He also vowed to dedicate his time in office to Afghanistan's economic problems. He said a top priority would be to push the international community to deliver on promised reconstruction aid for the country and to begin building roads to increase trade. "I will go in a very strong and demanding way to the donor countries who have pledged to help Afghanistan to now begin the reconstruction of major, major areas of need in Afghanistan, specifically our highways. I will not except any excuses in that," Karzai said.

As he outlined future goals, Karzai dismissed reporters' questions of whether he saw a need to build national unity in the wake of what some observers here have seen as a divisive week of political maneuvering ahead of the Loya Jirga vote.

The politicking included a surprise announcement by deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah that he would not be a candidate for the presidency but instead endorsed Karzai for the job. The announcement was greeted with dismay by many royalists, particularly among Afghanistan's numerically superior Pashtuns, who had hoped to see the former king become head of state to redress what they see as an imbalance of power in Kabul.

Most power in the UN-brokered interim administration has been held by members of smaller ethnic groups -- particularly by Tajiks from the Panjshir valley -- despite the leadership of Karzai, who is a Pashtun.

Karzai said Afghans have not defined themselves as rival ethnic communities in the Loya Jirga process and that no post-vote healing is necessary. "I think the common Afghan man sees himself very much as an Afghan. It is precisely because of this strength in [our] Afghan identity which has kept this country together and we saw that yesterday in the Loya Jirga," Karzai said.

In recent days, discussions among some Pashtun leaders of possible boycotts of the Loya Jirga due to the ex-king's withdrawal have died away and no walkouts by delegates have occurred. That has led to speculation in Kabul that a power-sharing deal now may have been reached that will meet the Pashtuns' demand for greater influence in the next government despite Zahir Shah's absence.

However, the nature of any deal will only become clear as cabinet posts are filled in the days ahead. The Panjshiris signaled earlier this week that they may be ready to give up at least one of the key ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs that they now hold. The signal came in an offer by interim Interior Minister Yunis Qanooni to resign from his position.

With the endorsement of Karzai as president, the emergency Loya Jirga now moves on to its other main tasks, including approving the candidates for the other top posts of the Transitional Authority. Under the terms of last year's Bonn accord among four key Afghan factions, the Loya Jirga is to decide for itself which "top posts" it has the right to approve. The Loya Jirga also must approve key structures for the new government, including the framework for its executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

As the Loya Jirga continues, it is unclear how much influence ordinary delegates will have in shaping the form of the next government and how much they will simply be endorsing deals reached outside the assembly.

Some delegates have complained that the last-minute clearing of the field for Karzai as the sole viable presidential candidate left the Loya Jirga with little freedom of choice. Delegate Sima Samar, who is also the interim minister of women's affairs, said the apparent deal making among power brokers had reduced the Loya Jirga to being a "rubber stamp."

That description is adamantly opposed by Karzai, and it is still too soon to predict how the Loya Jirga will ultimately be perceived by the public. But as the Loya Jirga today moved through its fourth day in session, there are signs that some delegates are beginning to view it less as a forum in which to shape the next government than as a place in which to petition the powerful for favors.

Early today, a delegate from Kabul voiced considerable displeasure that President Karzai was not present at the Loya Jirga to hear the local problems of his constituents. Addressing the assembly, the delegate said: "Yesterday, the head of the Transitional Authority was chosen in a vote by the people's delegates. Today, the people are expressing their views here. We as delegates are representing 25,000 people and we gave our vote of confidence to the chairman of the government. And we all have to answer to these 25,000 of our countrymen...The head of state should be present here to listen to the opinions of the delegates. He must pay close attention to the people's problems in their areas. And he should promise that he will take some measures to address the people's needs. I think if the leader of the government is not here than it will be useless."

Karzai later appeared at the Loya Jirga to hear the delegates as they took turns at the microphones in another marathon day of speeches. As the Loya Jirga sessions have run from early morning to well past midnight, some observers have said that the national assembly's most important function may be to provide ordinary Afghans with a way to vent years of pent-up anguish over the country's past decades of warfare and to stress their desire now to live in peace.

The delegates' voices can be heard blaring from radios and televisions all around Kabul and the continuous live broadcasts often draw a rapt audience. So far, the Loya Jirga shows no signs of wrapping up soon, though its planned end date is on 16 June. The only absolute deadline is 22 June, when the new administration takes office. The Transitional Authority is to lead the country to national elections within two years.

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