A Lopsided Loya Jirga


The fundamental premise of any agreement is that it should be fair and equitable to all those who may be affected by it. Six months into the induction of the Afghan Interim Government (AIG), a traditional caucus, the LOYA JIRGA (Great National Assembly of Notables) is supposed to assemble to choose the representatives of the Afghan people. Hungry for peace, the Afghans accepted an overwhelmingly Tajik (and Panjsheeri Tajik at that) dominated AIG, putting their faith in Loya Jirga Commission that was mandated to complete the process of choosing the representatives according to a complex formula, but one which was mainly rooted in the democratic concept of apportioning delegates on the basis of percentage of population, provided, of course, that they had individual reputation for integrity and acceptability to those whom they sought to represent. Even a cursory look at the procedural document issued by the Loya Jirga Commission showed that the Northern (Tajik) and Western (Uzbek) Districts have been allotted a much higher number of delegates. The Panjsheeri Tajiks who actually wield power in the AIG (having the all-important Ministries of Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs) manipulated an artificial majority for Tajiks in the number of delegates while denying the same to the majority Pashtuns. While Pashtun Hamid Karzai has kept the disparate but heavily Tajik-weighted coalition together, the seeds of discontent may reverse all the gains made in removing the Talibaan from power. The Eastern and Southern Regions are Pashtun and densely populated, they should have been given greater representation.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, records that Census 1963 gave percentages as Pashtun 58.7, Tajik 28.7, Uzbek 5.3, Hazara 2.7 and others 4.5. In any given situation in Asia, the majority population invariably gains ground at the expense of the smaller population entities. By any reckoning, the Pashtuns should now constitute about 65% of the population. Civil war, drought, internal and external migration, etc has however kept the Pashtun population static at around 60%. In 1964 after Sardar Daud Khan (who had seized power in an army coup in 1968) first relinquished power back to King Zahir Shah, a 216 member Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) was elected by adult franchise while a 84 members Mashroma Jirga (House of Elders) was 1/3rd elected by the people, 1/3rd by the new Provincial Assemblies and 1/3rd selected by the King. In both the Houses, the ethnic ratio of representatives was roughly according to the percentage of population. When Sardar Daud Khan again seized power in 1973 in a bloodless coup and ended his cousin King Zahir Shah’s reign for the second time, he maintained the parity of the population in the representation. The Tajiks, particularly Panjsheeri Tajiks, dominate the population of the capital city of Kabul but the Panjsheeris make up less than 10% of the Tajik population (ie about 3% of the total) and no amount of logic can justify their domination of the government in Kabul but the Loya Jirga, already heavily weighted in their favour, will give legal sanction to this gross manipulation.

There is seething discontent among majority of the Afghans because of a lack of a specified basis for population figures and the division of administrative units in the document issued by the Loya Jirga Commission. A copy of the 1979 and 1981 government Census and a map produced by the UN Development Programe 2002 shows only 12 districts for Badakshan Province and 2 for Panjsheer. Now Badakshan has been given a total of 28 districts and Panjsheer 4. The Loya Jirga Commission adopted the 1996 Estimates of population, at that time the Northern Alliance Rabbani-led government (propped up by Panjsheeri Tajik Defense Minister late Ahmed Shah Masood) held power only in Kabul and certainly was incapable of carrying out any credible survey in the rest of the country where they had no authority. The 1996 Estimates were heavily Tajik-biased, it has heavily influenced the weightage allocated by the Loya Jirga Commission to the Tajiks, all at the cost of the Pashtuns. At the same time a very caculated and vicious form of ethnic cleansing is going on in the Uzbek and Tajik areas, the Pashtuns being forced into internal migration into Pashtun areas, and even into Pakistan.

The bias continues in the allocation of seats to the Universities. Nangarhar University, having 11 faculties has been the second largest institution of the country for more than two decades, it should have received more delegates than smaller and less known universities such as Al-Beiruni University, Khost University and the Universities of Abdullah bin Masood, Parwan and Bamian, neither recognized by any legitimate authority or institution nor do they have any known recognizable graduates. How can they have been equated at par with established institutions like Nangarhar University? Then again the number of delegates apportioned for refugees is very low. Pakistan with 2 million registered and unregistered refugees has been allocated only 40 delegates. Obviously there is great amount of skepticism about the lack of a specified process or the procedure to elect the delegates who are abroad.

About one-third of the Loya Jirga members would be selected but with a lack of clear guidelines regarding their selection there is obviously apprehension of what should be the mode of choosing the non-elected members. This anxiousness is force-multiplied because of the unfairness of the parameters. Delegates with personal and factional ties have far more chance of being handpicked at the end of the process. Without clear and transparent channels of consultation between the Commission and the public, there is bound to be a lack of trust in the process. The public at large could have been consulted by the Commission members but for some reason have not been. When the Commission did try and elicit the public views, the visit was kept very formal and they rarely inter-acted as they should have. At no time did they discuss the composition or specifics of the upcoming Loya Jirga. Indeed some of their allocations were rather strange, many questioned the value of adding artists (Hunarmandaan) in the Loya Jirga. As for the NGOs, they played a pivotal (and almost solitary) role in the lives of Afghan for the last two decades and the local NGOs should have been allotted a greater number of delegates than the five seats they have been given.

One of the fundamental questions worrying the delegates is the question of security at the time of the Loya Jirga. Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman, who had run afoul of the late Ahmed Shah Masood, was killed openly in a very public place as a warning to other recalcitrants. The well known assailants have escaped being apprehended and punishment because of their strong Panjsheeri-Tajik connections. In hindsight it seems it was a very public and deliberate warning by the Panjsheeri Tajiks, all those who “dare” to come to Kabul for the Loya Jirga, do so at your peril!

Clearly something has to be done if the current process has to be saved from dissolving into disaster. The responsibility is of the UN but in brokering the Afghan Peace Accords in Bonn it has shown it is susceptible to the pervading influence of perception as opposed to reality on the ground in seeking to quickly get an agreement. While the UN is doing a great deal for the Afghan peace process, it is inadvertently also laying the seeds of discontent among the Afghan people that will certainly boil over unless a sense of justice takes over the current process. The Afghan people have always revolted against injustice, it won’t take them too long to overthrow the artificially created Tajik majority. Unless something is done, and quickly, we will have another civil war in Afghanistan, this time very ethnic, and as such very intense.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).