U.N. races to save deal on Afghan parliament
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United Nations representative in Afghanistan held an unscheduled meeting with Afghan lawmakers holed up in an upscale hotel here yesterday in an effort to rescue a deal that Western diplomats say is critical to instilling democracy in this war-torn country.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura's desperate dash to the Intercontinental Hotel yesterday evening underscored just how high the stakes are for the international community in resolving the conflict between members of parliament and President Hamid Karzai over when the parliamentary session will convene.
"It's a very critical moment," said de Mistura as he emerged from closed-door talks with lawmakers. "The hope of the international community is for a speedy agreement."
Legislators on Saturday thought they had a deal with Karzai that would allow the new parliament to begin work Wednesday. Karzai had wanted the start of the session, which had been scheduled for Sunday, delayed for a month while disputed results from September's election are resolved.
But by yesterday morning the deal to allow parliament to start meeting appeared to be crumbling.
Instilling democracy is a key part of the U.S.-led effort to stabilize Afghanistan, so foreign troops can pull out.
The United Nations, speaking on behalf of the United States and the other main Western players in Afghanistan, on Friday had expressed "deep concern" that Karzai wanted to delay the start of parliament. Karzai is seen as increasingly autocratic and often at odds with his Western backers.
"Afghanistan's peaceful future lies in the building up of robust democratic institutions based on the rule of law and clear respect for the separation of powers," the United Nations said.
The new parliament would include many Karzai critics who won election in September. His opponents say his effort to delay the session is tied to his hopes of replacing his sharpest opposition with more pliable candidates through a special election court that the president created to hear the allegations of fraud.