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The Jirga of Kandahari Elders

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Since last week, dozens of tribal elders from Kandahar Province have been negotiating behind closed-door Jirga (grand assembly) to pick a consensus nominate for the presidential race. The Jirga, which has become nicknamed as the Jirga of the Kandaharis, is to choose between Abdul Qayoum Karzai, a brother to President Hamid Karzai, and Zalmay Rasoul, former foreign minister and also a close ally of the President. According to the reports, the Jirga has failed to put forward a clear outcome.

Initially, it was reported that the participants of the Jirga had endorsed Qayoum Karzai as their candidate; however, President Karzai reportedly refrained to approve the selection, which ultimately resulted to further disagreements between Qayoum and Rassoul. The president has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

The gathering of Kandahari elders on behalf of Pashtoon tribes of Kandahar and adjacent provinces is a delicate long-standing game of tribal politics between the Durrani tribe, to which President Karzai belongs, and the Ghilzais, another main tribe. These two tribes have been rival power brokers in Afghanistan’s history while most of the kings had been from the Durranis, the Ghilzais also were considered as most important rival tribe, who shared power with the ruling tribe. Ahead of this year presidential elections, the tribal power struggle between the two tribes has once again emerged as the Kandaharis are struggling to guarantee Karzai’s place by choosing a consensus candidate for the election.

In its nature, there is nothing wrong with the negotiations among influential tribal leaders going on behind the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul when it comes to legality of the practice. It is the right of the Kandahari leaders and politicians to pick a consensus candidate through negotiations. Even, it is Karzai’s right to endorse his personal favorite for the upcoming presidential election, despite that he has strictly avoided, at least publicly, doing so. If there is any wrong with the tribal-style gathering in Kabul, it is not about the legality of the efforts.

However, given the nature of the gathering, which is a tribal approach to a democratic process, this move is considered by many as undemocratic and a harmful event for the ongoing democratic process in the country. It could inflame ethnic tensions if the process goes wrong. Even, it could revive the tribal rivalry and tensions between Durranis and Ghilzais which is potentially destabilizing for the country given the ongoing insurgency. At current crucial time, Afghanistan needs to strengthen democratic processes as an alternative to the long-lasting tribal way of dealing with politics. Therefore, any move contradictory to the principles of the democratic process is something which could potentially harm the ongoing election process.

Seemingly, President has avoided creating the perception among the public that he is supporting a specific candidate, and thus, has refused to endorse the decision of the gathering for supporting Qayoum Karzia in the election. Indeed, is doing the right thing and he deserves credit for understanding the criticality of the ongoing process and the future of the country.

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