Analysis of New Cabinet
Warlords Emerge from Loya Jirga More Powerful Than Ever

Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2002
Vikram Parekh

(Kabul, June 20, 2002) -- Afghanistan's warlords emerged from the loya jirga with greater power and a new claim to legitimacy, said today.

Many delegates representing civil society told Human Rights Watch that they had been excluded from any real decision-making. As the loya jirga nears its end, they expressed fears about the resurgent power of the warlords who were active, and at time abusive, participants in the loya jirga process.

"But it remains a fact that from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was a symbol of massacre, systematic rape and pillage. Which is why we - and I include the US State Department - welcomed the Taliban when they arrived in Kabul. The Northern Alliance left the city in 1996 with 50,000 dead behind it. Now its members are our foot soldiers. Better than Mr bin Laden, to be sure. But what - in God's name- are they going to do in our name?"

The Independent (UK), November 14, 2001
“Afghanistan's warlords are stronger today than they were ten days ago before the loya jirga started,” said Saman Zia-Zarifi, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Short term political expediency has clearly triumphed over human rights.”

The cabinet just named by Hamid Karzai, head of the transitional government, differs only slightly from that of the interim administration. The predominantly Tajik Jamiat-e Islami party holds three key cabinet posts while the Shi’a Hazara party, Hizb-e Wahdat, gained a seat. Both parties have been implicated in the recent attacks on ethnic Pashtun civilians in northern Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taliban. Jamiat has also been involved in an ongoing conflict with General Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish party in northern Afghanistan, where fighting and general insecurity have imperiled international humanitarian aid operations.

The appointment of Fazul Hadi Shinwari to the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also raises serious human rights concerns. Shinwari was quoted in press interviews in January as saying that Shari’a punishments including stoning and amputation would be retained, albeit with stricter due process guarantees than under the Taliban. His position contradicted Karzai's assertion during a visit to the United States that same month that Shari’a punishments could only be imposed in a society in which social justice and freedom from hunger prevailed.

Karzai did not announce who would lead the Ministry for Women's Affairs. Given the history of discrimination that Afghan women have suffered and the continuing insecurity in the country, this ministry is key to promoting and achieving Afghan women's rights.

The framers of the Bonn agreement recognized that an interim administration for Afghanistan, established immediately after the collapse of the Taliban, would have to include warlords who had reestablished themselves as effective authorities in most of the country in the fight against the Taliban. However, the selection of the transitional government to lead Afghanistan during reconstruction, by the delegates of the emergency loya jirga was supposed to reflect the voice of civilians, not warlords.

“Instead of creating the space for civilian leadership to emerge during the six-month interval, the lack of an internationally enforced security arrangement meant that warlords used that time to rebuild their military and political networks,” said Zia-Zarifi.

A delegate from Kabul told Human Rights Watch, “Warlords who bombed Kabul are not supposed to be here in the loya jirga. People who are contaminated with the blood of Afghans should not be elected as ministers.”

One group of delegates planned to submit a slate of candidates to fill the cabinet. None of the candidates on the lists were warlords or affiliated with them. Before the delegates had the opportunity to present their slate at the loya jirga, at least three members of the group received death threats over the phone.

The Warlords Win in Kabul

The New York Times, June 21, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan — On the final night of the loya jirga, more than 1,500 delegates gathered for the unveiling of the new cabinet. Our hearts sank when we heard President Hamid Karzai pronounce one name after another. A woman activist turned to us in disbelief: "This is worse than our worst expectations. The warlords have been promoted and the professionals kicked out. Who calls this democracy?"

Interim government ministers with civilian rather than military credentials were dismissed. Mr. Karzai did not announce the minister for women's affairs, prompting speculation that Sima Samar, the popular current minister in that post, will be removed once international attention shifts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the key ministries of defense and foreign affairs remain in the hands of Gen. Muhammad Qasim Fahim and Abdullah, both from the dominant Northern Alliance faction based in the Panjshir Valley. Yunus Qanooni, of the same faction, was switched from the interior ministry to education, though he is reportedly resisting the move. Three powerful Northern Alliance commanders — Mr. Fahim, Haji Abdul Qadir and Kharim Khalili — have been made vice presidents, surrounding Mr. Karzai. These are the very forces responsible for countless brutalities under the former mujahedeen government.

There are a few glimmers of hope in the appointments of professionals like Ashraf Ghani as finance minister and Juma Mohammed Mohammadi as minister of mines. But will they be able to accomplish anything within a government of warlords?

As the loya jirga folded its tent, we met with frustration and anger in the streets. "Why did you legitimize an illegitimate government?" one Kabul resident asked us.

The truth is, we didn't. While the Bonn agreement and the rules of the loya jirga entitled us to choose the next government freely, we delegates were denied anything more than a symbolic role in the selection process. A small group of Northern Alliance chieftains led by the Panjshiris decided everything behind closed doors and then dispatched Mr. Karzai to give us the bad news.

This is not what we had expected when we first gathered in Kabul to participate in one of the most extraordinary events in Afghan history. Delegates from all backgrounds — Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks; urban and rural; Sunni and Shiite — sat together under one roof as if we belonged to a single village. Men and women mingled openly and comfortably. In tolerant and lively exchanges, we discussed the compatibility of women's rights with our Islamic traditions. Women played a leading role at these meetings. We were living proof against the stereotypes that Afghans are divided by ethnic hatreds, that we are a backward people not ready for democracy and equality.

UN envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi says: "Voting for the Loya Jirga has been plagued by violence and vote-buying... There were attempts at manipulation, violence, unfortunately. Money was used, threats were used."

ABC News, June 12, 2002

Women's Affairs Minister of interim governmet says: "This is not a democracy, it is a rubber stamp - everything has already been decided by the powerful ones."

BBC, June 12, 2002

Mir Mohammed, another delegate from Kabul, said: "I was thinking of voting for Karzai this morning but when I heard his speech I realised he can't solve the problems of Afghanistan. He only mentioned the leaders of the armed factions. They all support him. If you see who has destroyed Kabul, killed tens of thousands of people, how can it be possible for them to be in power again? How can they solve the problems of Afghanistan?"

The Independent, 14 June 2002

"We were told that this loya jirga would not include all the people who had blood on their hands, but we see these people everywhere. I don't know whether this is a loya jirga or a commanders' council." said Safar Mohammed, drawing applause from fellow delegates.

The Guardian, June 13, 2002

'The European Union special representative Klaus-Peter Klaiber said he was surprised that warlords were participating in the loya jirga. "I was amazed to see in the first and second rows those so-called warlords sitting together".

Brendan O'Neill, 13 June 2002

But Shahla Mahindost, a female representative to the loya jirga from the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, blames the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance for picking up where the Taliban left off.

"The Northern Alliance are the ones now warning us not to forget to wear our burqas," she said. "They threaten to throw acid in our faces if we don’t.", 16 June 2002

Tajwar Kakar stood up to powerful warlords during the loya jirga, calling for their removal from the council.

"I told the country these men are responsible for the destruction of the country, for the widows and orphans who have nothing to eat," Kakar said. "They should be in jail, not sitting in the front seat in the loya jirga.", 30 June 2002

Within a day we had developed a common wish list focused on national unity, peace and security. We also emphasized access to food, education and health services in neglected rural areas. But the one issue that united the delegates above all others was the urgency of reducing the power of warlords and establishing a truly representative government.

This sentiment quickly grew into a grass-roots movement supporting the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, as head of state. The vast majority of us viewed him as the only leader with enough popular support and independence to stand up to the warlords. But our democratic effort to nominate Zahir Shah did not please the powers that be. As a result, the entire loya jirga was postponed for almost two days while the former king was strong-armed into renouncing any meaningful role in the government.

After that announcement, the atmosphere at the loya jirga changed radically. The gathering was now teeming with intelligence agents who openly threatened reform-minded delegates, especially women. Access to the microphone was controlled so that supporters of the interim government dominated the proceedings. Fundamentalist leaders branded critics of the warlords as traitors to Islam and circulated a petition denouncing Women's Affairs Minister Samar as "Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie."

Aware that in our country political intimidation can turn quickly into violence, many delegates lost the will to demand their democratic rights. A leading activist for women's rights, who prefers to remain anonymous due to these threats, explained: "Today we are loya jirga delegates, but tomorrow we go home as individuals. Who will protect us if we continue to express our views and fight for our rights?"

Of course we are discouraged that our experiment in grass-roots democracy was suppressed. We are disappointed that our leaders are not willing to recognize women's rightful participation. Above all, we regret that they and the international community abandoned any commitment to democratic rights as soon as we sought to exercise those rights.

Yet we still believe that this is the beginning and not the end, that the seeds of democracy planted by the loya jirga will take root and flourish. We saw at the opening of the loya jirga that it is possible to forge new friendships and alliances across regional, ethnic and gender lines.

Even without modern communications, word travels fast in Afghanistan. As loya jirga delegates return home, every town and village will gather to discuss and debate what happened. The initial experience of democracy we had in Kabul can be replicated and developed into new forms of political expression and organization.

The course of the loya jirga demonstrated that powerful forces inside and outside the country remain categorically opposed to democratic accountability. The dangers of challenging the power of the gun, especially in the absence of genuine international support for the rule of law, are substantial. But the reactions we saw on the streets of Kabul showed that the popular will of Afghans will not tolerate a retreat into the past.

Omar Zakhilwal, an economics professor at Ottawa University, and Adeena Niazi, president of the Afghan Women's Association of Ontario, Canada, were delegates to the loya jirga in Afghanistan. Mr. Zakhilwal co-wrote a recent human rights report on Afghanistan for the Center for Economic and Social Rights.

Stifled in the Loya Jirga

The Washington Post
, June 16, 2002
By Omar Zakhilwal

KABUL -- I am a member of the loya jirga's silent majority -- or rather, silenced majority -- who came here to Afghanistan's capital expecting to shape our nation's future but instead find ourselves being dragged back into the past.

We came from all parts of the country to claim our freedom and democracy. Instead, we are being met with systematic threats and intimidation aimed at undermining our free choice. We came strengthened by international declarations on human rights, but now are facing international complicity in the denial of our rights. We came to represent the diverse interests of the entire Afghan nation, 1,500 delegates for 25 million people, but are being pressured to support the narrow agenda of warlords and their foreign sponsors. We came to inaugurate an inclusive and professional transitional government, but instead are being compelled to rubber-stamp the Bonn Agreement's unjust power-sharing arrangements.

The fundamental question we face is this: Will the new government be dominated by the same warlords and factional politics responsible for two decades of violence and impunity, or can we break with this legacy and begin to establish a system of law and professional governance?

The Afghan people have spoken clearly on this issue. I recently participated in a U.N.-commissioned assessment mission by the Center for Economic and Social Rights. Our report documents widespread agreement among all Afghans, from urban professionals to landless farmers, that there should be no role for warlords in the country's future, and that international aid will be wasted unless the underlying conditions of peace and security are first established.

The same consensus holds in the loya jirga. I estimate that at least 80 percent of delegates favor excluding all warlords from the government. The 200 women delegates are especially outspoken on this issue. In a spontaneous display of democracy, they publicly rebuked two powerful symbols of Afghanistan's violent past -- Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of the mujaheddin government from 1992 to '96, and Gen. Mohammed Fahim, former intelligence chief and currently defense minister in the interim government.

But because of behind-the-scenes pressure, our voices are being silenced and the warlords empowered. Let me give some concrete examples.

When the loya jirga opened, support for the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was extremely strong. Rather than address the issue democratically, almost two days of the six-day loya jirga were wasted while a parade of high-level officials from the interim government, the United Nations and the United States visited Zahir Shah and eventually "persuaded" him to publicly renounce his political ambitions.

When the loya jirga recommenced, the delegates were surprised to be greeted by Afghanistan's 30 provincial governors, none of whom was elected to the grand assembly. It soon became apparent that their purpose was to serve as arm-twisters for the interim government, which is dominated by warlords from the Northern Alliance. These men controlled less than 10 percent of the country before the fall of the Taliban and therefore have little direct influence over most loya jirga members.

But the governors are able to leverage their local military and financial power to pressure delegates from their provinces to support hand-picked candidates allied to the Northern Alliance. At a gathering I attended, one governor made his threat explicit: "You are all with me. You will do what I tell you to do. If you dare disobey, we all go back to our province after this, don't we?" Such threats are enhanced by scores of Interior Ministry agents circulating throughout the loya jirga compound and openly intimidating outspoken delegates.

Equally discouraging is the role played by international organizations, especially considering our high expectations for their support on human rights issues. When I complained about our restricted role, a top U.N. political adviser told me in no uncertain terms that the loya jirga was not intended to bring about fundamental political change, such as ridding the government of warlords. Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan, has caused disappointment in the loya jirga through pressure tactics to undermine popular support for Zahir Shah.

In reality, the loya jirga is being treated as a ratification tool for backroom political deals. As one example, the media have reported on the "voluntary" decision of Interior Minister Yonus Qanooni to drop his candidacy. But it is not being reported that he may become prime minister in the new government, or that his intended replacement is himself a member of Qanooni's Northern Alliance faction.

I asked a taxi driver what he thought of the loya jirga. The man shrugged his shoulders and pointed out the window at Kabul's ruined landscape: "The same people who destroyed these buildings are sitting in the front row of the loya jirga."

On the first day of the loya jirga, we were filled with hope and enthusiasm. Most of us stayed up past midnight in spirited debates about the country's future. By the third day, a palpable demoralization had set in. Our time is being wasted on trivial procedural matters. We feel manipulated and harassed. Our historic responsibility to the Afghan nation is becoming a charade.

We are in Kabul because we believe that participation and democracy are more than words on paper. We are not asking for much, after all: simply the right to determine our own government and future in accordance with the human rights ideals so loudly trumpeted by the international community -- the same rights as all other people.

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