The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


November 17, 2011

President Hamid Karzai has called another jirga (assembly) to attempt to gain support for the creation of a long-term defensive pact with the United States. The traditional Loya Jirga is a mechanism for legitimizing the creation of a new dynasty or constitutional order in Afghanistan, but it is not supposed to be used in place of the parliament that was created with the new constitution nearly a decade ago. Most scholars would agree that the President of Afghanistan has the right to call a consultative Loya Jirga, but summoning a traditional Loya Jirga after a constitution is operational is much more problematic.

Unfortunately, the Afghan Parliament has been deadlocked for months because of a constitutional crisis stemming from last year’s flawed elections and attempts to unseat MPs who may have been elected under questionable circumstances. Politics within Parliament have also been marred by increasing ethno-linguistic factionalism. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Parliament is empowered to discuss the matters under consideration by the current jirga. It is for this reason that some MPs are boycotting the meeting and arguing in public that the meeting is illegal and unconstitutional. (The Taliban have also threatened — via SMS text messages — retaliation against MPs who participate in the Loya Jirga.) The Upper House of Parliament has issued a statement that the decisions of the Loya Jirga are only consultative and must still be submitted to parliament for approval.

In his opening address today, President Karzai called the meeting a consultative assembly, but closed the speech by saying that “You can represent the people of Afghanistan in such issues better than we can. We will take your recommendations and act as you have ordered.”  Thus, it is not at all clear that Karzai intends to submit the recommendations of the Jirga to Parliament.

The proceedings of this assembly are also complicated because the agreement with the US has not yet been hammered out.  (An agreement with India has already been announced. Negotiations are underway with the EU, UK, France, and Australia.)  Thus, the Jirga is meeting to discuss a hypothetical agreement or (more generously) the idea that Afghanistan should have a pact with the United States. Karzai has already framed the only conditional objections to the agreement as 1) ending night raids on civilian houses; and 2) eliminating any “parallel” structures of authority run by foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Regardless of what this Jirga recommends, the institutions of democracy in Afghanistan will be further eroded — if that is still possible.

[Cross-posted from Humayun]

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia