The roughly 2,500 participants taking part in upcoming Loya Jirga called by President Hamid Karzai to discuss the Kabul-Washington Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) will be divided into 17 different committees, officials of the Commission organizing the Jirga said on Sunday.
With only weeks left before the Jirga, which has garnered both support and criticism from Afghan politicians and experts, preparations to get everything in order and ready for the massive event are in full swing. The traditional form of democratic decision-making will bring together thousands of local, national, religious and political leaders from around the country.
“The participants of the Jirga will be divided into 17 committees, five of which are fixed, meaning they are representative of the National Assembly, Ulema Councils, Governors and Presidential candidates of the election,” explained Abdul Kahliq Hussaini Pashai, the Jirga Commission’s spokesman. “And the remaining ones will be representative of migrants, like those in Europe, Iran and so on, and the representatives of nomads.”
Just over a week ago the Administrative Board of the Jirga was announced with Sebghatullah Mujadadi as its Chairman, Sadeq Mudaber as the head of its Secretariat, Nematullah Shahrani as First Deputy and Said Hamed Gillani as Second Deputy.
Mudaber recently said that if the Taliban and Islamic Party would be allowed to participate in the Jirga so along as they recognized its decision-making authority.
The Jirga was proposed by President Karzai back in August as a strategy to leave the future of the contentious security pact with Washington up to the Afghan people. The BSA is expected to outline the future of U.S. involvement in Afghan national security after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, including the number and function of troops to remain behind for what has been called a “advising, training and assisting” mission. However, U.S. officials have also indicated the future of aid to Afghanistan is likely contingent on the agreement.
One of the key elements of the pact that the Jirga has been charged with deliberating on is the issue of U.S. troop immunity, which refers to whether or not U.S. troops in Afghanistan fall under Afghan or American judicial jurisdiction. U.S. officials have indicated a satisfactory outcome on the issue could determine whether or not the entire pact gets finalized.
Jirga’s are always dedicated to a single subject, which in this case, will be the troop immunity issue. No other topics of discussion can be raised for debate during the gathering.
There have been many criticisms of Karzai’s decision to hold the Jirga. Even the gathering’s Chairman voiced reservations about it after being named to the Administrative Board.
“There was no need for holding the Advisory Loya Jirga for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement. This could have been solved through discussions with the United States,” Mujadadi said.
A number of Afghan political parties have called into doubt the legality of the gathering and asserted that it must not be an interference to the spring elections.
“The United States wants the agreement to be signed before the elections in Afghanistan, and the country has announced that it doesn’t want the election candidates to campaign while signing the agreement,” said Moeen Marastyal, the Deputy of the Right and Justice Party. “The Jirga must not prevent the elections from being held.”
Marastyal, like many others, sees the spring elections as not just pivotal in determining Afghanistan’s future, but also highly vulnerable. Although security issues have been the most talked about concern surrounding the elections, manipulation by public officials also has caused plenty of hand-wringing. In fact, anything significant and unpredictable, whether the Jirga or reconciliation talks with the Taliban, has been suspected of being a potential disruption to the election process.
Nevertheless, the Jirga is moving forward. And with the BSA in the balance, it will likely play a crucial role in determining what Afghanistan looks like after 2014 regardless of who finds themselves in the Presidential Palace next April.