Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, January 19th, 2018

Loya Jirga and the Strategic Agreement with the U.S.

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Loya Jirga and the Strategic Agreement with the U.S.

President Karzai and the committee he has set up are on track to hold the traditional consultative Loya Jirga some time soon within this month. The Loya Jirga will bring together a few hundreds of hand-picked tribal and community elders as "representatives" of the people of Afghanistan as well as the current MPs and members of provincial councils. The district councils enshrined in the Constitution are yet to be instituted even after ten years of the new political order.

So there will be no district council members to take part in the upcoming Loya Jirga. President Karzai has for long been maintaining that the very raison d'être of this Loya Jirga is to consult with the "real representatives" of the people of Afghanistan about the purported strategic pact with the United States.

This strategic pact does indeed have the potential and certain merits to do good for an Afghanistan that is still desperately dependent on Western aid and assistance to get back on its feet. While it is clear that the pact has the potential to bring good for Afghanistan and its people, the manner in which it has so far been developed and deliberated upon has been far from democratic with the Parliament and the people being circumvented and bypassed during its deliberations. The Parliament and even the Loya Jirga have been positioned so as to face a fait accompli; a pact whose broad outlines and main provisions have already been decided upon.

Now, one can identify many explicit problems with this plan and the sum total of these unanswered questions make one wonder if the whole costly exercise to convene a Loya Jirga is worthwhile. Apart from the many unanswered questions about the very need to the institution of Loya Jirga within and parallel to a modern form of political organization in a country that strives to modernize itself and its political institutions, there are also many other doubts and concerns as to whether the upcoming Loya Jirga can be of any practical significance, particularly at a time when even a formal body such as parliament is incapable of instilling a measure of democratic accountability into our ailing system.

The purported strategic pact with the United States has already been completed; its broad parameters and the main provisions contained in the pact have already been decided upon. The government has already announced that 90% of the issues in the strategic pact have already been agreed upon with the American side.

The U.S. government too has said the two governments see eye to eye on most of the issues and matters of disagreements will be sorted out before December when the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan will be convened.

The fact of the matter is that the strategic pact will have been signed by the Executive branches of both Afghanistan and the United States by the beginning of December. The Loya Jirga has been called by President Karzai and its members and participants have already been hand-picked by the government and the organizing committee - many of them with the personal approval of Karzai himself.

If the Loya Jirga is being convened to provide the government with a platform to hear the views of Afghanistan's "real representatives" on the strategic pact, then, how can this Jirga have any meaningful impact on this process when, as announced, the broad outlines and the most sensitive issues of the pact have already been decided upon by the two governments? It is very difficult if not impossible to see any real and tangible role for the Loya Jirga and for that matter the national parliament in the whole affair. The kind of input that the upcoming Loya Jirga can have in the strategic pact cannot

possibly be more than pronouncements of total approval and going along with the wishes of a government that holds the purse strings and abundant banknotes and greenbacks - things that these elders and participants understand and prefer better than the technicalities and nuances of a strategic deal with a foreign government. After all, in no religious school in villages of Afghanistan, they have ever taught the details of working out a deal with a foreign government!

Many would say that the Loya Jirga would give the President and the government of Afghanistan a fresh "mandate" to pursue Afghanistan's interests in the framework of the strategic pact with the United States. But as has been the case with previous Loya Jirgas since 2001, these assemblies have amounted, in actuality, to no more than nominal gatherings wherein the so-called representatives have voiced blind approvals of what has already been decided.

If the aim of convening of such Jirgas and assemblies is to allow the people to participate in matters io national importance, the first step would be to bring in people who are knowledgeable enough and have at least a basic understanding of how a government ought to work. It is difficult to see how such matters can be delegated, at least symbolically, into the hands of tribal elders who really have only a sparse understanding of the nuances of present world politics.

In the make-up of the Loya Jirga, Members of Parliament are also present as the Constitution makes it clear. The friction and the jurisdictional overlaps between the powers and authorities of the parliament on one hand and the traditional Loya Jirga on the other is another issue that is still outstanding.

If the end-result of day long deliberations under the Loya Jirga tent will be the Jirga voicing a blind approval of the pact - which will be inevitably the case - then does it not mean that the MPs too have voiced support for the pact? If the pact would clear the Jirga, then it is hard to see how MPs would voice opposition to certain clauses of it once the pact is delivered to the parliament for ratification.

The best way to ensure people's and their representatives' participation in the process of developing and deciding upon the provisions in the strategic pact would have been to deliberate over the issues contained in the pact with active advice and input from the parliament and the MPs.

An overwhelming majority of the MPs have on numerous occasions shown that they are supportive of the strategic pact given the present conditions in which Afghanistan finds itself. There has been almost zero consultation with either the people or their representatives in the Parliament on the issue of the pact.

The government, sooner or later, has to send the strategic agreement to the parliament for ratification and complications and problems may arise since no one outside the government was privy to the details and intricacies of the deal during more than one year of deliberations with the American side.

The government and President Karzai might get tempted to altogether refuse sending the strategic pact to the Parliament for ratification. This is a real possibility. In this case, it would open yet another chapter in the rocky relations between the two branches.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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