Afghanistan announces mid-June Loya Jirga
By Brian Williams
Monday April 1, 1:08 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan is to convene a Loya Jirga council in June that will decide whether interim leader Hamid Karzai stays in power but will seek to exclude drug dealers and war criminals.
The centuries-old Loya Jirga announced on Sunday will have 1,450 delegates and represents the biggest step towards imposing order on war-battered Afghanistan since Karzai's appointment as interim head of state in mid-December.
"We have done it without fear and without feeling any pressure from anyone," said Ismail Qasimy, chairman of a U.N.-appointed 21-member commission that has spent weeks organising the Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council of elders.
In contrast with the previous radical Islamic Taliban rulers, only six places were alloted to religious leaders. Women were guaranteed at least 160 places.
"This Loya Jirga is going to be convened from the 10th of June until 16th of this current year. It shall be in Kabul," Qasimy, a former supreme court judge, told a news conference.
Dubbing the council the "Peace and Democracy Loya Jirga", Qasimy said it would elect a head of state, decide the type of government to rule until national elections in about two years and appoint ministers.
But the countdown to the Loya Jirga and the gathering itself is expected to widen the many splits in Afghanistan's society.
In a sign of the difficulty of keeping all sides happy, the final total of 1,450 was nearly three times the number Qasimy envisioned when he started his search.
Kabul residents hailed the calling of the Loya Jirga.
"It will at last take us down a new road to peace," said civil servant Mohammad Ismail. "The whole country at last will have a say in the running of our affairs."
Malya, a mother of four, applauded the women's seats.
"The voices of women have been silent for too long in Afghanistan," she said.
In a statement outlining arrangements, the commission said there would be 1,051 elected delegates and the other seats would be set aside for groups such as women, business people and overseas Afghans.
There were to be six "religious personalities" and 100 delegates representing refugees mainly in Pakistan and Iran.
All top members of Karzai's administration and the 21 members of the commission would be among the delegates.
To qualify for the Loya Jirga, potential candidates have to be meet requirements including:
- having no link with terror organisations
- not having been involved in spreading or smuggling narcotics, abuse of human rights, war crimes, looting of public property and smuggling of cultural and archaeological heritage.
- in the eyes of the people, not having been involved indirectly or directly in the killing of innocent people.
But it was unclear how it would be judged whether candidates had been involved in such activities.
Qasimy dismissed suggestions some Karzai officials should be excluded because of war crimes and drug smuggling.
"They (Karzai administration members) are heroes of our liberation and have an automatic right to attend," Qasimy said.
The administration of Karzai, a Pashtun, is dominated by Tajiks even though Afghanistan is a Pashtun majority country.
NO BLANKET BAN ON TALIBAN
Qasimy said there would be no blanket ban on former members of the Taliban, vanquished by U.S.-led forces in December.
"If they fulfil the requirements, they can come," he said.
Qasimy confirmed former King Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in Rome since 1973, would open the inaugural session of the Loya Jirga in Kabul but retire once a chairman was elected.
Asked who would open the Loya Jirga if the king, whose return has been postponed several times, did not turn up, Qasimy said the Loya Jirga itself would name his replacement.
Loya Jirgas have been held to reach important decisions about once every 20 years in the past three centuries. The last was in 1987 when there was a Soviet-backed government.
They are colourful, rowdy affairs with delegates attending from the most far-flung tribal areas as well as intellectuals, warlords, business people, politicians and religious leaders.
Dress ranges from turbans to embroidered quilt coats to western style dress with debate raging from morning to night.
The election of delegates will be supervised by the United Nations and include international monitors.
Grassroots selections start on April 13 and the final choice of delegates must be made by June 6.
Sunday March 31, 11:59 PM
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military said three U.S. Special Forces soldiers were slightly injured during a live-fire exercise in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday.
One Afghan soldier was also wounded in the incident at Urgun, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Gardez, but his condition was not known, U.S. military spokesman Major Bryan Hilferty told reporters at Bagram Air Base just north of Kabul.
"Three U.S. Special Forces were injured at about noon local (0730 GMT). They were training with rifles and M-203 grenade launchers...and it appears there was a short round," Hilferty said.
"They were injured, not seriously. All three have returned to duty."
The grenade accident follows the death of a U.S. Navy Seal on Thursday when he stepped on a landmine near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
SpeciaMonday April 1, 3:08 AM
In Pakistan's country along the Afghan border, al-Qaida fugitives and home-grown Islamic extremists are teaming up to confront Pakistan's government and its U.S. allies.
Pakistanis and Afghans familiar with extremist organizations say their aim is to punish President Pervez Musharraf for abandoning the Afghan Taliban and banning several militant groups in Pakistan in connection with the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Pakistan Turns Over To U.S. About 20 Arabs - Source
Pakistan has handed over to U.S. authorities about 20 Arabs arrested last week in raids on suspected al-Qaida hideouts, a senior intelligence official said Sunday.
One of the detainees resembles a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, police officials say. U.S. and Pakistani authorities are trying to determine if the suspect is Abu Zubaydah, who sources say had taken effective control of al-Qaida after the collapse of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
U.K. Peacekeepers Come Under Fire In Kabul
U.K. peacekeepers patrolling in western Kabul were fired on as their convoy traveled to an observation post in the second shooting incident in as many days, a spokesman for the security force said Sunday.
Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, a British spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, expressed concern about the increase in violence, but said it was not clear if the attack Saturday was directed at the peacekeepers. There were no injuries and the assailant got away.
U.S. Troops Hold Easter Sunrise Service In Afghanistan
Seated in an empty, ceremonial pool in a courtyard of Kandahar airport, about 120 U.S. soldiers sang hymns and prayed at a sunrise Easter Sunday service.
The soldiers cradled their weapons or laid them at their sides on the benches.
For all of the stories on the War on Terrorism, search N/911
Sunday March 31, 4:55 PM
KABUL (AP)--A grand council on Afghanistan's future, or loya jirga, will convene June 10-16 to install a new Afghan government and will count at least 160 women among its more than 1,500 members, the organizing commission announced Sunday. Only six seats are guaranteed for Islamic scholars.
The commission chairman also said Afghanistan's ex-king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, will return from exile April 16 to call the assembly into session.
The former monarch's homecoming, after 29 years in Italian exile, had been postponed because of security concerns.
After two months' intensive work, the 21-member organizing commission for the loya jirga announced procedures for the indirect election or selection of members of the assembly, and the guaranteed allocation of some seats among special groups - including women, Afghan refugees and academic and other institutions.
"Especially significant is the number of women who will be represented," chairman Ismail Qasimyar told a news conference.
"You see for the first time in our national life, our modern history, a loya jirga that has and enjoys the most and broadest legitimacy," said Qasimyar, a specialist in constitutional law. The loya jirga - literally "grand assembly" - was envisioned under the agreement negotiated among Afghan factions in Bonn, Germany, last December that established an interim government to succeed the Islamic extremist Taliban, who were toppled from power in a U.S.-led war last fall.
The six-month interim regime, under Hamid Karzai, is to give way to an 18-month transitional government appointed by the loya jirga in its week-long deliberations in June. The loya jirga will then reconvene after 18 months to adopt a new Afghan constitution, including procedures for electing a permanent government
Sunday March 31, 2:46 PM
Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai thanked American troops for their help in the battle against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters during a visit to this coalition base, a US military spokesman said.
Karzai toured the Bagram coalition airbase Saturday afternoon, met the commander of US forces here and addressed rank and file troops, according to Captain Steven O'Connor.
"He visited the (on-site) Spanish hospital and visited the Afghan ministry of defence (troops) here," said O'Connor on Sunday.
"He was briefed by Major General Hagenbeck on our current operation and was kept abreast of events."
Karzai said he supported the continued presence of US forces in Afghanistan until the al-Qaeda had been driven out, one US source told AFP.
Major Bryan Hilferty said the visit was confirmation of the good working relationship between the coalition forces and Karzai's government.
"The Afghans have given us great support - everything we've asked. Our Afghan allies were critical to the victory in Anaconda."
The defence ministry of Karzai's administration sent around 1,000 troops to help coalition forces and their local Afghan allies wage the Operation Anaconda offensive in eastern Paktia province against diehard Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
Although they suffered their biggest death toll so far in Afghanistan with the loss of eight servicemen in the early stages of the offensive, US military officials have dubbed Anaconda a success, saying they wiped out hundreds of enemy fighters.
Coalition and Afghan allies are still combing the network of caves and bunkers in Paktia's Shahi Kot valley where the extremists had been holed up before Operation Anaconda was launched on March 2.
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