More than 2,000 Afghan leaders are converging on Kabul for a high-profile, four-day loya jirga, or grand assembly, further testing security capabilities of a city already on high alert after several recent scares.
On Sunday evening, the Taliban announced that they had received a copy of the security plan to protect Wednesday's loya jirga, at which Afghan leaders will discuss strategic relations with the US and negotiations with the insurgency. NATO and Afghan officials rejected the Taliban’s claim, saying the security plan published on the group's website was a forgery.
On Monday afternoon, Afghan police killed a suicide bomber trying to enter the area where the loya jirga will be held.
Following a number of significant attacks and assassinations inside Kabul, the warnings have much of the city on edge. Still, those involved in the loya jirga say that threats are commonplace in Afghanistan and few Afghan officials seem to place much weight on them.
“In our province, tribal elders are always threatened or warned about giving suggestions or information to the government, but it’s our duty to help the country and we’re not going to be stopped by fear,” says an elder from Helmand Province who has already arrived in Kabul, and asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. “The enemies of Afghanistan are using every chance to make problems for the people, but now this loya jirga will be conducted.”
Afghanistan has held only 15 to 20 loya jirgas in the past 300 years, six of which took place in the past decade. These meetings call together leaders from around the country to decide major issues such as adopting a new king or constitution. Delegates are expected to pass their recommendations on Afghan-US relations and talks with the insurgency on to the parliament.
While several people have criticized the upcoming meeting as unnecessary now that Afghanistan has a parliament system, it remains a major event that a number of Afghans view as a critical part of their political system.
With 2,000 leaders meeting in one place, however, the loya jirga is an attractive target for the Taliban and other antigovernment forces. A number of Afghan and international organizations will close during the gathering for security reasons.
The last loya jirga was held in the summer of 2010. The Taliban attacked with rockets and suicide bombers during President Hamid Karzai’s address to the gathering. Though the president made light of the attacks as they were happening, his chief of intelligence and the minister of interior were fired immediately after for allowing the security breech.
As for this loya jirga: “Everyone knows where the police have checkpoints and the Army is stationed. I don’t believe that it is a big issue if the Taliban did get the security plan. Even if they got it, no one is going to be scared or not attend the loya jirga,” says Haji Abdul Ahmad Durrani, a member of parliament from Wardak Province. He adds that he has received six death threats warning him not to attend.
Meanwhile, as security threats abound in Kabul, Afghan and NATO forces say they have made progress against the Taliban in restive Paktika Province, capturing the organization’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid.
However, in a phone call on Monday afternoon, someone answered Mr. Mujahid’s regular phone number and represented himself as Mujahid, saying, “I’m not arrested. No one is arrested by the name of Zabiullah Mujahid. This is propaganda.”
Several people within the Taliban's public relations apparatus have traditionally represented themselves as Mujahid. It is possible that Afghan and NATO forces may have apprehended one of the people who serves as Mujahid, while other spokesmen remain at large.