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Afghanistan: Security, Warlordism Seen As Biggest Challenges, One Year After Loya Jirga

One year after the emergency Loya Jirga, participants in the Afghan grand assembly say a lack of security and warlordism are the main challenges facing the Transitional Authority, the government created by the assembly. Some participants today criticized Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai for failing to deliver overall peace and security. Others say that, under the circumstances, no other leader could have achieved more over the past 12 months.

Prague, 3 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- On 11 June 2002, more than 1,500 delegates from every region of Afghanistan assembled in a giant white tent on the grounds of the Polytechnic Institute on the northwestern edge of the capital, Kabul.

The delegates -- professionals, politicians, tribal elders, and religious leaders -- gathered for an emergency Loya Jirga to select members of an interim administration that would rule Afghanistan until democratic elections scheduled for 2004.

Now, a year later, how is the Loya Jirga being remembered?

Mohammad Usman Tareq, a journalist who participated in the Loya Jirga as a representative from Lugar Province, believes the Transitional Authority has not lived up to the expectations of the Afghan people.

Tareq told RFE/RL that living conditions for ordinary Afghans have not improved, that violence and lawlessness continue, that the central government has no real authority beyond the capital, and that Afghanistan's budget depends too heavily on foreign aid.

Tareq recalls pledges made by Hamid Karzai after he was selected to be Transitional Authority president at the weeklong Loya Jirga.

"Mr. Karzai implied that if he could not succeed in his job he would call the Loya Jirga and resign. Unfortunately, the government did not make progress, but he did not resign. One of the issues, which was underlined in the Bonn agreement, as well as at the Loya Jirga, was the human rights issue. The human rights committee was established, but despite its huge budget, the committee did not do anything significant," Tareq said.

Tareq said the Afghan government cannot rebuild the country or receive international aid unless it provides security throughout the country, not only in the capital. He insists that only the United States is capable of dealing with powerful warlords who have been ignoring the central government.

Ahmad Rashid, a noted regional expert based in Lahor, Pakistan, agrees that the transitional government's biggest problem over the past year has been the lack of security, but that the problem is not of its own making.

"I think the failure has to be put on American foreign policy for refusing to take the lead in getting the international community to provide peacekeepers outside Kabul. The lack of security is the biggest danger in order to implement the rest of the Bonn agreement, which includes the new constitution, the registration of political parties and an election next year," Rashid said.

In interviews with RFE/RL, many ordinary Afghans say their lives have not improved economically over the past 12 months. And they say they are disillusioned by the slow pace of reforms.

Najib said: "Our great expectations after the last Loya Jirga did not materialize. There were so many pledges, but nothing has happened during the past year. We wish they delivered what was promised."

Sayeed Mohammad of Kabul said: "The last Loya Jirga was convened in an exceptional situation -- after 23 years of civil war -- and subsequently, it had many shortcomings. Powerful warlords pushed their favorite candidates ahead. We hope that new jirgas will not make that mistake and [will] contribute to eliminate ethnic and tribal rivalries."

Supporters of the Transitional Authority note that the government started from zero, and that it would have been difficult -- in a war-torn country with no infrastructure or functioning bureaucracy -- for another leader to have done better in solving Afghanistan's enormous problems.

For the first time in more than a decade, supporters say, Afghanistan has an internationally recognized government that is constructing a framework for long-term national development. A new currency has been introduced, more than 2 million refugees have returned home, and some 4 million children, including girls, have resumed their education in secular schools.

Ismail Yoon, who was the Loya Jirga representative from the eastern Laghman Province, dismisses claims that convening the assembly was a purely symbolic procedure and that it was put under outside pressure to elect Karzai as head of the government.

"We cannot deny that to some extent the Emergency Loya Jirga was under the pressure of warlords, internal and foreign elements, and religious groups," Yoon said. "However, given the situation, it was the best possible solution we could come up with. It wasn't an ideal Loya Jirga, but it did solve the problem, and we can call it a success."

Yoon said for many centuries, the Loya Jirga -- the highest decision-making institution in the country -- has helped Afghans find solutions to major crises or challenges facing the nation. He notes that Afghanistan was created as a sovereign country by a Loya Jirga in the 18th century, and that during the 20th century, the nation convened a Loya Jirga to decide on whether to participate in World War II.

Free and fair democratic elections are scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in June 2004. In the meantime, a constitutional Loya Jirga is due to convene to approve a new constitution for the country.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.