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Panel Sets Rules for Constituting Grand Council

Politics: Women are to help choose new leaders, but critics assail process for selecting delegates.


KABUL, Afghanistan — When 1,450 Afghans from all corners of the country gather in the June heat to choose Afghanistan's future leadership, 160 seats will be set aside for women and six for Islamic scholars.

That's a marked change from the Taliban days, when religious men ran the country and women were mostly banned from work. But according to rules announced Sunday for the grand council, or loya jirga, there also won't be an outright ban on members of the former Taliban regime.

The loya jirga, Afghanistan's best hope for peace, will convene under a huge tent June 10-16 to name a leader and government acceptable to the country's disparate ethnic and tribal groups. If it fails, Afghanistan risks a return to civil war.

The ultimate prize is power and, even before the council begins, various factions are expected to jockey for control of the most influential posts--defense, interior forces, foreign ministry and police.

Afghanistan is ruled by an interim government put in place at a December summit in Germany. The leaders selected at the June meeting also will be transitional, serving for 18 months. During that time, the loya jirga will convene again to adopt a new constitution and procedures for democratic elections.

A special commission released details Sunday about how the loya jirga members will be chosen. But some questions remained, notably on how security for the selection process could be assured and how fairness could be guaranteed in a country where provincial warlords dominate their regions.

With no broad popular election of loya jirga delegates, some Kabul academics were disappointed that the process would not be more democratic from the outset.

The council will include 399 members representing the interim administration, the special commission on the loya jirga and groups such as women, refugees, academics and nomads. The remaining 1,051 members will be indirectly elected from Afghanistan's 32 provinces. Each province will choose a pool of representatives by consensus, and they will in turn elect delegates to the loya jirga from among themselves.

Regional teams, which will include international representatives, will monitor the procedures and settle disputes.

"Of course it's hard to expect that in a short time, after 23 years of fighting and bloodshed and all these appalling situations, that we have settled everything and all the problems have been tackled," conceded Ismail Qasimyar, chairman of the special commission.

"Every possible effort will be made to create an atmosphere conducive to free and fair elections," he said.

Three Kabul University professors interviewed by The Times were critical of the process, arguing that the special commission reflected the interests of competing factions that would put their own interests first.

"In this kind of situation, when there are commanders ruling everywhere all over the country, how can we talk of democracy?" said Akhmad Zia Nikbin, head of the sociology department at the university.

Barred from participating are individuals involved in terrorism, drug trafficking, human rights abuses, war crimes and the killing of innocent people. The illiterate also are banned.

But Aziz Rakhmand, head of the Kabul University history department, said he believes that former Taliban members would get onto the loya jirga regardless of past activities.

"It's a political game to cheat the people and the world community," he said, adding that local warlords have the money and power to determine who is elected to the loya jirga.

History professor Hulam Habib Panjsheri predicted that violence and intimidation would take place in eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban still has support, and in the southwest and west of the country.

"There is no doubt that the loya jirga will have corruption and injustice," he said.


Special correspondent Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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