The much-anticipated and much-publicized traditional Loya Jirga or the grand assembly of elders opened in Kabul on Wednesday, November 16 amid much public fanfare. The government of President Karzai had for long been all decked up to make the event as high-profile and momentous as it can possibly get with the government coffers thrown wide open for the organizers to spend as they please and reach far and wide throughout Afghanistan to handpick a select class of delegates.
The current Loya Jirga has been a hotbed of controversies since its very beginning with many, among Afghanistan's political class, civil society and the public at large, having voiced strong criticisms of the Loya Jirga and the president's unyielding determination to convene it no matter what may come.
The stated objectives for the current Loya Jirga have all along been maintained by the government including the president himself to be consultations with the "real representatives" of the people of Afghanistan on the two critical issues that Afghanistan of today faces: one being talks with the Taliban and the other the upcoming strategic deal with the United States.
However, there are many compelling indications that belie these claims of the government and the president. Going by these indications, it emerges so clearly that this grand Loya Jirga is little more than a high-profile public relations campaign by a president and a government that, being increasingly besieged by many crises from all sides, are desperate to mend their broken legitimacy and give the impression of having secured a sweeping mandate in what is supposed to be a national-level assembly of elders.
Today, the Loya Jirga will issue a final declaration which would sum up the results of the 4-days long deliberations and the works if its 40 committees. The declaration is supposed to contain and reflect the opinions and views and the final conclusions of the Loya Jirga and be a "guiding document" for the government and the president himself as far as policy-making on the two issues is concerned.
Mending the broken legitimacy through a Loya Jirga
It would be necessary to take a look at the set of reasons that have compelled President Karzai and his team to convene the Loya Jirga at this juncture. It is a forgone conclusion that the Loya Jirga will indeed be of little impact on how major decisions are taken inside the government regarding the two main issues under discussions: the strategic deal and the derailed peace process. The Loya Jirga and its deliberations and conclusions, as has been admitted even by the President himself, will be primarily of an "advisory" nature.
This means that the whole affair is indeed reduced to be little more than a clever public relations campaign by the president and his team. One of the main objectives sought by the president and his team is to use the Loya Jirga and the air of tranditional sanctity that it still carries with some of the Afghan rural communities in the east, south and other parts of Afghanistan.
The current Loya Jirga is an exercise by the government in trying to repair its broken legitimacy that has long been tainted under the burden of the controversies surrounding the presidential elections and the widespread governance and security crisis that has engulfed the country.
In addition, the Loya Jirga has been timed to be held just shortly before the second Bonn conference on Afghanistan that is scheduled for next month. What is striking and stands out so prominently is the President Karzai's attempts to mend the broken legitimacy of himself and his government in front of the world opinion through this Loya Jirga, and to secure for itself a stronger platform to stand on when the second Bonn conference is kicked open next month.
In other words, one among the objectives sought by the president is to quell and lessen criticisms of himself and his government in foreign capitals and media through this shrewd public relations campaign that goes under the name of the Loya Jirga.
What has been an unmitigated disaster and threatens to reduce the ongoing Loya Jirga to the level of a theater of the absurd is that while discussing the strategic deal with the U.S. is one of the two main issues in the Loya Jirga, the Loya Jirga's spokesperson has come out saying the specifics and details of the demands of the American side in the strategic deal will remain confidential.
In other words, the government, which has convened the Loya Jirga for the very purpose of discussing the strategic deal and seeking the views of the delegates, keeps secret from the very same delagates and the public at large the most crucial details of the strategic deal. Now, if this is not absurd, then what can it be? Therefore, right here, the claims of the government that the Loya Jirga has been convened for the purpose of consultation with the "real representatives" of the people lays shattered.
Covering up for monumental failures
The current Loya Jirga has another utility at this critical juncture for the president and his team. The monumental failures of the government and the president in steering the country out of many crises that are engulfing the country has been obvious for all. The country and the results of more than ten years of sustained efforts to build a new Afghanistan are in serious danger with the governance and security breakdown becoming endemic and spreading all across the country.
The whole system is blinking red and it is becoming apparent that more than the Taliban and their war machine, the bigger threat to Afghanistan and its people comes from a dysfunctional government that has failed to deliver even on a minimum of its duties and responsibilities.
The government of president Karzai is increasingly under pressure from both inside and outside Afghanistan to do something before it gets too late. In such grim circumstances, the government of President Karzai and himself have sought to allay the widespread fears and diffuse this increasing tide of popular unrest and disillusionment by convening a headline-grabbing affair which, so obviously, will have no concrete results.
For the government under siege, the much-publicized Loya Jirga will also do the job of keeping busy the public opinion for a while and diverting the attention of the public from the many crises that are eroding the pillars of the country and the nation.
What is still disturbing is the pace at which the government of President Karzai is alienating all the major constituencies, supporters, friends and allies both inside and outside of Afghanistan. While alienating these major pillars of support and strength, the president and the government, instead, try to seek and find legitimacy and public support through such ineffective means as the Loya Jirga. The ongoing trend is indeed a cause for worry.