Karzai gathers tribal council to discuss deal with U.S.
KABUL, Afghanistan — This country has a president and parliament responsible for critical decisions on national security. But President Hamid Karzai, to the consternation of many who consider it a waste of time and money, has convened a traditional tribal gathering to discuss a security deal with the United States.
A loya jirga, or grand council, will open here on Thursday. It is likely to paralyze the Afghan capital for five days as about 2,700 delegates from around the country gather to eat, drink and argue inside a tent protected by tight security.
Negotiations on an agreement establishing the level of cooperation between Kabul and Washington when international combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 have dragged on for the last year. The loya jirga will further delay the signing of a pact that would, among other things, determine whether the United States has legal jurisdiction over American troops accused of crimes and whether American forces will be permitted to enter Afghan homes in pursuit of terrorists.
A dispute over legal jurisdiction derailed an agreement between the United States and Iraq in 2011 and resulted in Iraq having no ongoing American troop presence. In Afghanistan, the United States seeks to keep American military advisors past 2014 to train and provide logistics to Afghan security forces, and to keep U.S. special operations forces for counterterrorism missions.
With the original U.S. deadline of Nov. 15 passed, Karzai's government is setting up an enormous convention site festooned with flags and slogans. Karzai has said he wants consultation with prominent Afghans, a traditional Afghan means of decision-making he relied on two years ago for another important pact with the United States.
Provincial and district governors appointed by Karzai dominate the roster of proposed loya jirga delegates. Final approval is made by the loya jirga's 30-member convention commission, appointed by Karzai.
The loya jirga is an advisory body. Parliament has to approve the pact and can override the delegates' decision. Karzai will make the final call. But the president has indicated that he won't sign without loya jirga approval.
Afghan critics say the loya jirga usurps the authority of the elected parliament. But Afghan analysts and Western diplomats say Karzai wants political cover from the loya jirga, whose delegates he controls, so that he can't be accused of unilaterally cutting a deal with the United States.
“It's a five-day paid vacation for poor, backward people who will do what Karzai tells them,” said Abdul Shakoor Qazizada, a Kabul businessman. Many Afghans say Karzai is delaying at a pivotal moment when combat troops are leaving and an April presidential election looms. Even the loya jirga chairman, Sebghatullah Mujadadi, acknowledges that it isn't necessary.
“That's why it's such a waste of time and resources,” said Hamidullah Farooqi, a U.S.-educated economist and former transport minister in Karzai's government.
Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament who favors the pact, said Karzai hopes to use the gathering to pressure the United States into concessions. Though parliament members are invited, Koofi is boycotting it.
“We don't need it — it's pointless,” she said. “He should just sign the agreement and send it to parliament.”