First grand assembly ‘Loya Jirga’ since end of U.S. occupation opens in Kabul

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Afghanistan is holding its first Loya Jirga – or grand assembly of tribal and religious leaders – since the end of the Western occupation last year.

More than 3,000 leaders are meeting in Kabul over the next few days and the agenda will likely include ways to improve economic and social conditions, strengthening the administration, and the issue of girls’ secondary education.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, Deputy Prime Minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), said people from various ethnic groups and with different views will sit for discussion.

“After years, Afghans from various sections and ethnic groups and with different views sit with each other for discussion without foreign interference,” Hanafi said. “It is in itself a positive and valuable step for maintaining stability and strengthening national unity.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the IEA, said that the gathering will be held under tight security measures.

The Islamic Emirate has not shared specific details about the agenda of the gathering and it still unclear how long it will last, but Kabul Polytechnic University, where the gathering is being held, has dismissed students for a period of eight days.

At least one participant at the Loya Jirga called for secondary schools for girls to reopen on Thursday.

“They will learn and will be a good guide for their children in society,” said Sayed Nasrullah Waizi, from central Bamiyan province. He said that education will help prevent moral and administrative corruption.

IEA’s Acting Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund said in his speech that the meeting was aimed at addressing challenges and strengthening the administration.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is trying to solve all problems … this government has been reached after a lot of sacrifice, we should work together to strengthen it,” Akhund said.

Political analysts are speculating that the following items will also be on the agenda:

  • The prospect of elections to be held after three years.
  • Former soldiers will be invited to return to their duties.
  • The issue of the previous national flag will be raised.
  • Poets will be invited to prepare a new national anthem.
  • Former President Ashraf Ghani will be invited to return to his homeland to cooperate with the IEA in government affairs.
  • Heirs of martyrs will be asked to forgive each other.

The Loya Jirga comes as Afghanistan is in a deep economic crisis as billions in central bank reserves have been frozen and international sanctions enforced on the banking sector by the West.

Western human rights organisations say they are concerned that no women have been invited to the meeting, and Afghan opposition groups, such as the National Resistance Front led by Ahmad Massoud, said only Taliban supporters have been invited.

Loya Jirgas have a long history in Afghanistan – the first was held in 1747. They are usually convened by the king or the president and their members can be both elected and appointed.

Several Loya Jirgas were held during the U.S. led occupation. In 2002, the emergency Loya Jirga in Kabul, with the participation of 1,551 members, elected Hamid Karzai as “head of the transitional government.”

In 2007, the Joint Loya Jirga of Afghanistan and Pakistan cooperated in the “fight against terrorism;” in 2010, the Loya Jirga consulted on peace; and in 2013 it consulted on strategic cooperation with the United States.

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