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.

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

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.

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

And while the Afghan president gathers old men to endorse his policies, a US judge in New York has told a group of young Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City’s Zuccotti Park to disburse – sort of. The judge told the protesters that their constitutionally protected right to “assemble” does not include the right to set up tents, camp stoves, and drum circles.

As Ron Scherer writes in the Monitor, New York State Judge Michael Stallman ruled that protesters “have not demonstrated they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion of the owners’ reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely.”

City officials say the battle for Zuccotti Park is "far from over,” but one wonders whether the potency of this protest – the literal taking and holding of territory that mimics the Tahrir Square demonstrations that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – will be diminished by this court decision. Certainly the public anger over America’s current economic crisis, and the US financial sector's role in that crisis, are undiminished.

A time for peace prizes?

And finally, in the category of peace prizes awarded to men of war, Jonathan Watts – the Guardian’s man in Beijing – writes today that the China International Peace Research Center has named Vladimir Putin as this year's winner of the Confucian peace prize. The prize was created to laud those who "promote world peace from an eastern perspective."

As Mr. Watts notes, Mr. Putin is a curious candidate, given his role in “two wars in Chechnya, one conflict in South Ossetia, and two of the deadliest hostage relief operations in modern history.”

He adds, tartly:

The 16-judge panel said that Putin deserved the award because his criticism of Nato's military engagement in Libya was "outstanding in keeping world peace", regardless of the fact that it had no bearing on the outcome of the north African conflict.

Typical journalist, quibbling over "facts."

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