IWPR'S AFGHAN RECOVERY REPORT, No. 8, Part 2
11 HAZİRAN 2002
EX-KING BACKS KARZAI LEADERSHIP BID
AFGHAN MEDIA REFORMS UNDER SCRUTIN
The US is suspected of playing a significant role in Zahir Shah's decision to withdraw his candidacy at this week's grand assembly.
By Anthony Borden in Kabul.
In a dramatic last-minute intervention, former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah has announced his support for Hamid Karzai to continue as head of government in the new administration to be appointed by the Emergency Loya Jirga. In a written statement read before a packed Monday evening pres conference at his Kabul residence, the ex-king confirmed that "I have no intention of restoring the monarchy and I am not a candidate for any position. . . . I fully support (Karzai's) candidacy".
Yet in a city buzzing with rumours about supposed back-room agreements, the manner in which the announcement was made only fuelled suspicions that a deal - with strong US involvement - had been done. The statement - which clarified "confusion" created by press reports that the former monarch could even challenge Karzai for the pre-eminent position - was intended to set the stage for the Loya Jirga, which was intended to start this morning but was postponed specifically to clarify this issue.
Speculation over the role of the ex-king had been rife. Many Pashtun delegates declared support for him as head of state, and there was talk of a possible petition to be presented to the conference with hundreds of signatures, calling for an executive role for Zahir Shah .
The Loya Jirga appeared to be heading for a potentially major confrontation, which could complicate the more obvious deal-making over the various ministries.
While Karzai himself is also Pashtun, many of the latter see him as too close to the ethnic Tajic Panjshiris, who currently control the main power ministries. The former king, despite being 87 and in poor health, has been supported as a means to water down Panjshiri dominance.
In statements repeatedly broadcast on the BBC and other media, Zahir Shah confirmed that he would accept any position offered to him by the conference. Yet the initial announcement drawing back from this position was made not at the royal residence but down the road a few hours earlier at the heavily guarded US embassy compound, by special presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Confirming the delay in the proceedings, which had been scheduled to begin at 8.00 AM local time, the US official said, "One major reason for this postponement . . . is that statements.. indicated that the former king is or might be a candidate for the post of president. . . . Since these statements were inconsistent with earlier statements by the former king, it caused some consternation and confusion among the participants in the Loya Jirga."
As a result, he said, "the management of the Loya Jirga decided it would be prudent to delay 24 hours to ascertain the true position of the king."
Khalilzad was at pains to insist that the US had had no role in the announcement, and representatives of Zahir Shah also argued that the statement represented no change at all.
"We did not press him to withdraw, because he says he never made those statements (suggesting he would accept a candidacy)," Khalilzad said. "We have not exerted influence in any way."
But serious discussions have obviously been under way, and concern had been rising that without a pre-agreed settlement - especially between the rival Pashtun and Panjshiri factions - the direct participation of the ever increasing number of delegates (originally slated at 1,500 and now possibly pushing 1,700) could cause the exercise in direct democracy to spiral out of control.
Khalilzad confirmed that he had been at the king's residence on the eve of the conference, and had over the weekend visited Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah (one of the Panjshiris widely tipped for removal to placate the Pashtuns).
Journalists and others who had lingered around Zahir Shah's home confirmed that deep discussions about the ex-king's role had been under way. "They have been arguing over this all afternoon," said leading Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid.
"The position today was a clear reversal," said Alexander Theiry of the International Crisis Group. "People have seen Afghan politics influenced so many times by outsiders. . . . This will lead to a suspicion that the agreement was made by the United States."
A Pashtun delegate lingering outside the royal residence was even more direct. "We are shattered. This is a step back from Afghan democracy, and we will have to decide what position we will now take."
Why the confusion could not have been clarified by a press release, or at the opening of the Loya Jirga itself, was unclear. "We wanted to make a very emphatic statement," said one of Zahir Shah's representatives. By the former king's press conference, Khalilzad had returned, joined by the US ambassador, several members of the royal entourage, Abdullah Abdullah and Karzai.The statement was read by Zahir Shah political representatives, and Karzai expressed thanks for the support.
As the English-language portion was read confirming backing for Karzai, the Afghan leader clasped the ex-monarch's hand in a kindly squeeze. The latter was then quickly rushed back through heavy security without facing a single question.
Whether muzzling the ex-king in this way is worth the vigorous outburst that may be expected tomorrow from the floor from angry Pashtun delegates will be concluded over the coming days.
Tony Borden is IWPR Executive Director.
OPINION: STEPPING OUT OF THE SHADOWS
After years of oppression under the Taleban, Afghan woman are grasping a historic opportunity to enter the political process.
By Jamila Mujahed in Kabul.
Six months ago, the dark regime of the Taleban was in place in Afghanistan, and women were confined to the prison of their homes. Decrees passed and violently enforced by the authorities ensured that we could not work, study or even appear in public without the heavy burqa shroud. Women bore the brunt of war through 23 years of bloodshed. They lost their husbands, their fathers and their sons and were denied work. Far too many times, they were forced to flee and endure the life of a refugee. Even their access to medical care was severely restricted.
Now we are free. We are encouraged to study and work and can walk the streets without the burqa if we so choose. It is a time of real happiness. For the first time in decades - and in the most open and democratic exercise in the country's history - women are directly entering the political process through the Loya Jirga. They have the chance to address the many problems they face in Afghanistan and to play a role in the rehabilitation of the country. It is a historic opportunity.
There are more than 1,500 representatives gathering at the Loya Jirga, and around 200 are female. The majority, such as myself, have been appointed through reserved places by the Loya Jirga commission - of which three out of 21 members are women. But many have been democratically elected through local and regional levels of the process. This women's caucus is a powerful first step for full participation in the political process.
From this starting point, we can identify female leaders for the future and establish new organisations to address our issues in the long-term. In spite of the obstacles put in our way, many Afghan women are highly educated and energetic and our greatest single desire is to stop the fighting. After two decades of conflict, Afghans are tired of war and are thirsty for peace. Without it, we cannot solve any of our problems.
Despite the gains achieved even in the short months of the interim administration, a climate of fear remains. Afghanistan has too many armed factions. The young men who were caught up in the fighting have missed out on education and training and now have no appreciation of normal life.
Also, there are too many people holding illegal weapons while undisciplined warlords are allowed to threaten individuals and disrupt the peace. The most important task for the Loya Jirga is therefore to appoint a legitimate administration and create a responsible, trained and unified army and police force to serve the interests of the people. If this can be achieved, it will give women a new sense of security and enable them to enter public life with confidence.
I do not think women participating in the assembly will wear the burqa and I expect that as soon as a government with real authority is established, the majority of us will abandon that garment, at least in the heart of the capital. Beyond that, education is the key to female advancement and women at the Loya Jirga will seek to ensure that this remains high on the new administration's agenda. Having been excluded from schooling by the Taleban, women need increased opportunities for learning both at high school and university level.
The interim administration made school accessible to girls and young women, especially in the capital, but the system will need investment in the towns and villages. Radio and print media must also be improved so that people can have wider access to information and educational programming. This will have an impact not only on our place in society but also within family life. In a country were most marriages are arranged, keen students will hope to remain unmarried throughout their teenage years so they can complete their chosen course. Men will need to learn to appreciate the benefits of an educated wife and mother, and in time wish the same level of schooling for their daughters.
Major challenges remain, such as the question of whether all parties - particularly the men with guns - will accept democratic decisions. The ladies in the Loya Jirga also face a challenge. It is up to us to operate in a politically disciplined and mature manner and ensure that we present a common voice. We will be working not against men but on behalf of all Afghanistan, yet we can expect some harsh responses from many male delegates. Our goal will be to stick to our principles and to effect change.
All delegates must conduct themselves responsibility and make good the trust bestowed upon them by those they represent. Inshallah, we will accomplish all of these things. We are also hoping for much more vocal and sustained support from the international women's community. Afghans are saddened by the events of September 11 but they also know that but for that tragedy, no one would have come to our aid, none of the great changes in Afghanistan would have occurred and we would still be languishing in a Taleban prison.
Jamila Mujahed is editor-in-chief of Malalai's women's magazine, a TV and radio broadcasters and a representative of the Association of Afghan Women.