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Afghan government bars officials from meetings seeking Loya Jirga

KABUL: The Afghan government has banned officials from participating in meetings that seek to establish an assembly, or Loya Jirga, to replace the incumbent administration amid deepening political and security concerns in the country.

Former President Hamid Karzai, who governed for 14 years after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, has been leading the push to hold a Loya Jirga, a traditional gathering of Afghans summoned during critical times.

Billboards have been erected in various parts of the country saying a Loya Jirga “will be convened soon.”

Advocates have held meetings in Kabul and in some provinces. Karzai is believed to be behind the billboard campaign.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office has ordered government officials “to avoid participation.”

Ghani’s national unity government, in power since late 2014 under a deal brokered by Washington, is facing growing public frustration over poor governance, an internal power struggle, rising crime, an economy in bad shape and increasing violence.

In the latest incident, a political gathering in a Kabul on Thursday came under a suicide attack that killed several people.

According to a recent survey by the Asia Foundation, the sense of insecurity is at its highest in 11 years, with 70 percent of people fearing for their lives and only 33 percent saying the country is moving in the right direction.

Holding a Loya Jirga “is the only option for consolidation and strengthening of national consensus, and for saving the nation and the country,” said Karzai, a critic of US policies in Afghanistan.

His spokesman Aimal Faizi said Kabul and Washington are worried that the Loya Jirga will pose a threat to their interests.

The national unity government, “as a client government created by Washington at the US Embassy in Kabul, lacks the support of the Afghan people,” Faizi told Arab News.

“It has only been upheld by Washington because it enables the US war and military presence in Afghanistan,” he said.

“So the US and its yes-man Ghani are both against Afghanistan’s national and democratic institution (the Loya Jirga),” Faizi added.

“Their fear is that Afghans from around the country will take a decision against the US war and military presence in Afghanistan, and of course against the illegitimate NUG (national unity government).”

Najib Mahmoud, a professor of political science at Kabul University, said the old and current Afghan elites are at loggerheads over power.

But politicians who served under Karzai, as well as some currently in office, are demanding a change of administration, Mahmoud added.

However, “without foreign support you can’t achieve a change of government via a Loya Jirga, as people aren’t so mobilized to bring down the government or take the initiative,” he told Arab News.

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