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Afghanistan: Expert Sees Link Between Violence And Loya Jirga Politics

There has been a marked upsurge of violence in Afghanistan since the launch last month of the process to form a Loya Jirga -- the grand national council that will appoint the country's next central government. RFE/RL spoke with a leading analyst who has been predicting such violence since the beginning of this year. She is Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Prague, 10 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan has seen an upsurge of apparent political violence since the process to form a Loya Jirga was officially announced late last month. Under the Bonn accords that outline Afghanistan's political transition process, the Loya Jirga -- or grand national council -- has been tasked with appointing the country's next central government.

Since work began on choosing the electors who will in turn choose the 1,500 members of the Loya Jirga, there have been an attempted assassination of interim Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim and an alleged coup plot against the current interim administration. Threats against the former Afghan king, Zahir Shah, have led him to postpone his planned return to Kabul. There also has been an increase in the number and severity of attacks against both the foreign and Afghan troops that provide security for the interim administration.

Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been predicting such violence since Afghanistan's political transition process was outlined under the Bonn agreements last December.

Ottaway says the extreme fragmentation and militarization of Afghan society is bound to impact the plan for democratic reconstruction. She sees the recent violence as part of a struggle by marginalized groups -- such as former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami party -- to assert their presence. She says their goal is to either gain a toehold in the political process by force or to try to derail the transition altogether.

RFE/RL: Can you explain, in broad terms, your views on the surge in violence in Afghanistan since rules were officially published on the creation of the UN-backed Loya Jirga?

"This is a typical post-conflict situation where there is an agreement, of sorts, on the table [about a political transition process]. But there are also a lot of groups that are armed and quite determined -- who have fought for many years to gain power -- and are not about to give everything up just because of external pressure."

RFE/RL: Your public policy briefings since the beginning of this year have anticipated exactly the kind of violence that we are now seeing in Afghanistan. What has been the basis of your predictions?

"The peace process that has been designed [under the Bonn agreement] is completely unrealistic. It is based on the assumption that the [warlords and factions] with the weapons -- who have been demonstrating their determination to get their way for many years -- are all of a sudden going to lay down their arms and abide by a political process. And this, essentially, has never happened anywhere."

RFE/RL: Why do you think that the security situation is deteriorating at this particular time? Why not, for example, in June after the Loya Jirga is actually inaugurated and appoints the 18-month transitional authority that will take over power from the current interim administration?

"There is no doubt that in the preparation for the Loya Jirga, the deals are being made now. The idea is not to wait until the Loya Jirga [is established] to reach some agreements [on the transitional authority]. I think the attempt is to try and get to the Loya Jirga with pacts already made so that then the Loya Jirga can confirm what has already been negotiated."

RFE/RL: So how does that translate into the increase in apparently politically motivated violence?

"From the point of view of these groups [that have been marginalized by the Bonn agreement], the time to assert their presence and assert the fact that they cannot be left out and cannot be disregarded is now. Because this is the time when the deals are being made [on the composition of the Loya Jirga]."

RFE/RL: The council to form the Loya Jirga might take exception to your use of the word "negotiations" to describe the indirect elections they have set up -- that is, a process in which village elders across the country will determine the electors who are empowered to vote, at a district level, for the 1,500 members of the Loya Jirga.

"These Loya Jirga negotiations go fairly far down into the tribal areas. So I think there is a lot of trying to haggle about who is going to represent the various areas [as electors]. What the international community is trying to create is really a coalition of more moderate groups over which they can have an influence. The more radical groups, and the better-armed groups, are groups over which they cannot have an influence."

RFE/RL: So you see the increased violence as attempts by factions that were marginalized under the Bonn agreement to gain representation on the Loya Jirga itself?

"I don't have any knowledge that allows me to conclude whether the goal is to scuttle the Loya Jirga or to make it clear that they have to be included in the Loya Jirga process. That I really cannot judge."

RFE/RL: What might be done to improve the security situation in Afghanistan?

"One of the main problems that makes the situation in Afghanistan so explosive is what the international community has not done -- put in the military muscle to keep these [more radical] groups under control. There is really no reason for the warlords to disarm at this point. What we are asking them is to give up what has been their ambition all these years. But we have neither carrots to offer them nor sticks to threaten them with because there is no international force in Afghanistan that can make them stop."

RFE/RL: Are you saying that you advocate the deployment of a large international security force across all of Afghanistan?

"If the goal is to disarm these groups and to create a new government that is not beholden to the warlords, then the only way we can do it is by putting in a large international force. [But I hesitate to say that I advocate a wider deployment of foreign troops because] that has very far-reaching implications. I think it is a force that probably would find itself fighting a war. Not just keeping peace, but fighting a war of pacification."

RFE/RL: Plans to create an Afghan national army are now far behind schedule. Only a small force is expected to be ready by June when the Loya Jirga is due to announce the composition of the transitional authority. How do you see the situation developing if more foreign troops are not sent in to fill this security vacuum?

"Unless we put in that [international] force, then the goal of a new government -- which essentially is emerging from a political pact in the Loya Jirga, and then later on from elections -- is not realistic and cannot be attained."

RFE/RL: Do you see the recent increase in violence as the result of an evolving political situation in Afghanistan?

"I don't think the situation is necessarily different from what it was one month ago. The basic forces are the same as they were one month ago. What is happening is that it is becoming more urgent for all groups to play their hands now, and also all of the groups have had a bit more time to think about how to move in this situation. We have people who finally have decided to act on the basis of the situation that has been there all along."