The Loya Lion in the Jungle

my Outlook op-ed published on Nov 19

Much has been said in media about the ‘Traditional Loya Jirga’ (TLJ) going on. I got to know two new things; that we were a nation of ‘lions’ living in a ‘jungle’, and that the ‘pimp number’ 39 has plagued the minds of our elders too. President Karzai started his speech with the controversy about the TLJ itself, given the serious questions raised by opposition groups as well as media regarding the ‘legitimacy’ of the Jirga. The President said Jirga was a “historic and desirable” tradition of Afghanistan. He mentioned a book titled ‘National Jirgas of Afghanistan‘ by Muhammad Alam Faizad, who represented Takhar Province in the Lower House of Parliament during Zahir Shah, and recommended the delegates to read it.

The history and tradition of the Loya Jirga is a broad topic to be discussed here. For my Afghan readers, you can check a latest article about it on BBC Persian’s Afghanistan page by an Afghan academic from Essex University in UK. What the Government has been doing is an obvious manipulation. Despite the fact that organizers of the TLJ says it has no legal authority, but just a ‘consultative/advisory’ Jirga, the question is, what is the legal base for calling a ‘consultative or traditional’ Jirga? The Constitution has one whole chapter (6) titled ‘the Loya Jirga’, in which, Article 110 says, “Loya Jirga is the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan. It consists of the following:

  • Members of the National Assembly [Lower House and Senate]
  • Chairpersons of the Provincial and district councils
  • Cabinet members, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court (without voting rights)

The decisions of this constitutional Loya Jirga become law. But the constitution does not mention any Jirga with ‘consultative’ ‘traditional’ and all other words invented in this regard. Even if the TDL is not a legal body, the Karzai Administration can call it an ‘advisory meeting with elders’, why to create confusions with Loya Jirga? Well, who cares about the political implications of such mess in future. There are other ambitions behind such deliberate manipulations. Even the term ‘traditional’ is very vague to use. But they are mixing it all even in the official documentations of the Jirgas called by President Karzai, probably more in the last 10 years than all Jirgas during the entire period from King Amanullah to Zahir Shah.

The President calls it a ‘consultative’ or ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga, but all of more than 2000 delegates did not know what they were supposed to ‘advice’ about, before Karzai’s inauguration speech saying it was to discuss the agreement of strategic partnership with the US and talks with Taliban. The incomplete draft of the agreement distributed among the delegates to discuss does not include specifics of the pact.

The President only mentioned ‘advice’ from the delegates regarding talks with insurgents following the assassination of Ustad Rabbani. He explained, what sounded like his ‘demands’ from Americans regarding the agreement, and did not mention whether any advice or suggestion from the Jirga delegates will be considered. He declared following demands:

  • The US and NATO should stop searching Afghan homes
  • We cannot tolerate night raids of our homes
  • We do not want foreign parallel structures to run alongside the Afghan Government institutions.
  • We want our national sovereignty recognized by all means and from today!

Then the President declared, “these are the conditions of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is ready to sign strategic agreement with the United States, which is to our benefit.” If you have decided the conditions, why to bother with the Jirga? It’s a show staged for political bargaining and setting the ground for future manipulations.

In some parts of his speech, President Karzai sounded defensive about what the Taliban call his administration a “puppet”, by counting the tales of success during the last 10 years, saying his government made relations with the world. He used the line “Afghanistan [his Administration] has acted independently” repeatedly.Rest of the speech was an amalgamation of emotions and confusion. He asked questions and replied himself,

Can we, ourselves, protect this land? We certainly can. Can we ourselves defend this country? Undoubtedly we can! With our own means? Surely, with our own means. Will we need more assistance? Absolutely!”

After praise and brotherly talk about Pakistan and Iran, he said the Afghan land will not be allowed to be used against any other country. Then in contradiction, but not clearly, he added, “the war on terror cannot be pursued in the villages of Afghanistan, but rather in its sanctuaries and safe havens.” Though not naming, President Karzai was obviously referring to Pakistan. Talking of Iran, he said Tehran was “more reasonable” than Washington in relations with us and understanding our needs.

The following statement was particularly confusing.

After 9/11 -2001, the West returned to Afghanistan since their interest was threatened. They (United States) will not remain without reason. They too have their interests, and nobody will stay here for our sake alone. Now that they are seeking to maintain relations with us, it is not for our sake. They have their own interests, which is reasonable.

If you don’t allow them to arrest “anyone”, conduct any operation, why would the US need to stay in Afghanistan? I have been skeptical of the peace process and still believe it will not make any breakthrough with the Taliban by 2014. If insurgents continue the attacks, not only on Afghan forces and government installations, but also the US troops after 2014, how would we expect them not to make arrests or conduct operations at night?

Then came his comments after which Kabulis are calling each other lion, and Afghan online forums are hit with jokes and cartoons about it. President Karzai compared Afghans with an old, sick and feeble lion. Following are his exact words:

“Even if old, sick and feeble, a lion is still a lion! Other animals in the jungle are afraid of even a sick lion and stay away from him. We are lions, the United States should treat us as lions, and we want nothing less than that. We therefore are prepared to enter into a strategic agreement between a lion and America. A lion hates a stranger entering his home; a lion dislikes a stranger trespassing its space, a lion does not want his off-springs taken away at night. The lion does not allow parallel structures to operate, the lion is the king of his territory and he governs his own territory. The lion has nothing to do with others in the jungle.”

After this ridiculous comment, President Karzai with his emotional flow spoke something which I cannot make any sense about. He said his concerns are “non-interference in our home and internal affairs; our traditions, religion, customs, marriages, joys and sorrows and the like are our own affairs.” Who has interfered with our traditions, religion, customs? Expecting your Jirga to approve the strategic agreement, and giving such remarks goes in line with the propaganda of Taliban who say of such ‘invasion’ on our culture, traditions and religion. The international community and the US in particular have brought us democracy and universal values, there has been no interference in our culture, traditions and religion.

Then he continued the lion analogy getting more ridiculous,

“They [US presence] bring us money; train our soldiers and police, and provide security for the home of the lion. The lion does not have leisure time to do all these things. They should protect his surroundings but should not touch the lion’s home. They should protect the four boundaries of the jungle.”

I won’t comment about the jungle and loins. Then he moved on to the talks with Taliban. The President pointed particular emphasis on this and repeatedly asked the delegates for advice, a word which he did not mention at all during his comments about the US-Afghan strategic partnership. He praised efforts by Turkey and Saudi Arabia regarding the peace process and asked for more “transparency and clarity” on the US part. Then the President ended his speech saying he would talk to the delegates in the last day of the Jirga. For ordinary Afghans who were making remarks about the two days of the Jirga so far, it was about the lion analogy by President Karzai on day one; and the pimp story on day second.

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