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Good Reads: Karzai's loya jirga, Occupy Wall Street protests, and Putin's peace prize

At a traditional loya jirga meeting of elders, Afghan President Hamid Karzai makes the case for continued partnership with US, while a New York judge orders city officials to shut down Occupy Wall Street's tent city.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / November 16, 2011

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks as he inaugurates a traditional loya jirga meeting of elders in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday.

Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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As horrible as they are, wars are the milestones of life. Historians spend lifetimes puzzling how we humans get into them, and political scientists create elaborate theories on how we can get out of them.

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In Afghanistan, with the US drawdown of military forces underway, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called an extraordinary meeting of village and tribal elders called a “loya jirga,” to chart the path forward for that rugged, mountainous, but utterly charming country.

The biggest issue, writes Alissa J. Rubin in The New York Times, is just what kind of relationship Afghanistan should have with its erstwhile protector, the United States. In many villages, US troops have long ago worn out their welcome, and Mr. Karzai’s government has openly suggested peace talks with the Taliban.

But at the loya jirga, Karzai told elders that the US could still have a role to play in rebuilding Afghanistan, although it would be a role dictated by the Afghan people’s own national interests.

“It’s O.K. that they are strong and rich and powerful, but we are lions. Weak and old and sick, a lion is still a lion, in the forest everyone avoids a lion even if it is old and sick and weak. A lion doesn’t like it if a stranger comes to his house, he doesn’t want his children taken by foreigners during the night, the lion doesn’t want parallel government structures. ”

Nice words, but here’s the irony. The loya jirga itself is kind of parallel government, unelected by the people, selected and invited by Karzai, which potentially undermines the authority of Afghanistan’s duly elected legislative institution, the parliament. Afghanistan has had loya jirgas longer than it has had parliamentary democracy, of course, and there is no indication that Karzai is deliberately making an end run around his critics in the Afghan Parliament.

But Scott Worden, a senior rule of law adviser at the US Institute of Peace, writes in Foreign Policy why this particular gathering is one to watch, and watch carefully:

Given that the "Traditional Loya Jirga" lacks formal requirements to assume constitutional powers, its main authority is political. Therefore, its success will depend on whether President Karzai has chosen members that truly represent diverse constituencies and limit themselves to political outcomes. If instead the delegates are seen as exclusive of key interest groups and attempt to make legally binding decisions that could not be approved otherwise, this Loya Jirga will represent a significant setback for Afghan democracy and could foment greater conflict, rather than pushing forward the priority of peace.

A time to tear down

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