Invoking a Shadow Legislature

Politicking is an amusing game. More recently President Karzai has started to learn and experiment some of its intricacies it in his country. Some observers are of the opinion that he is learning the game from his well-placed confidants at home and abroad that teach him the rules and the moves. But looking at the so-called inner circle surrounding the Afghan President, one does not get any impression that his colleagues like those in his cabinet who are all political novices, would be in a position to tutor him. So one has to look elsewhere.

Recent reports speak of President Karzai’s repeated hints at his country’s need for establishment of what now he calls a permanent strategic relationship with the United States without qualifying the term. Earlier and following the visit to Afghanistan last February by US Senator John McCain of the United States who had first hinted at establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, President Karzai had touched on the issue several times. This column in a commentary titled: ” Permanent Guests!” has touched on the issue before.

But one of the most important political moves by the Afghan President to date, as reported by Reuters News Agency correspondent Sayed Salahuddin on May 5, 2005, shows that the Afghan President now plans to invoke a shadow legislature to discuss the issue. The report quoting a presidential official says: “President Hamid Karzai has summoned hundreds of representatives from across Afghanistan for talks that will include the sensitive issue of strategic partnership with the United States.” The report further states that the invitees include members of the Loya Jirga that endorsed a new constitution in January 2004.

So far President Karzai has happily run his government as he had wished without any checking and balancing effects from a legislature. The Constitutional Loya Jirga wanted him to create a transitional era legislature to overlook the writing and creating of numerous laws needed for a new democratic Afghanistan that had emerged from the ashes of a quarter century of wars. He chose to use his own cabinet for the purpose. His cabinet, were chosen individuals and not elected members and therefore legally would not qualify to enact laws. On the other hand, many in his cabinet are professional individuals with little or no political experience at all. Therefore, too, using of the cabinet to pass transitional laws face legal questions. But so far, President Karzai had not faced major issues touching on Afghan sovereignty and independence. It is true that the US forces in Afghanistan, engaged officially in the war against terror, conduct their business freely and independent of the Afghan government control. It is also true that at times, the Afghan government forces help the US troops, but have no official say in the planning of attacks, searches and imprisonments of Afghan citizens suspected of acts of terror or aiding and abetting of suspect elements. At times, even the government itself has surrendered suspect Afghan terrorist elements to the US forces for interrogation and even imprisonment and or sending abroad for further investigation. In the war against terror all of this may be necessary, but there should have been a legal arrangement to safeguard the national interests of Afghanistan and that the Afghans should have been involved in the control and conduct of the operations.

But now President Karzai faces an issue that has some degree of urgency according to him. This issue is the need he feels, for reasons of security, of a continued military presence of the United States in Afghanistan. He is well aware that a decision on this regard by him alone would tantamount to ignoring the need also of finding the will of the nation. This would stain his otherwise good record as a nationalist figure and would feed fodder to the claims of the opposition that he is giving priority to the needs of others rather than his own nation. The questions surrounding this issue include whether assigning of urgency to the question of security at this stage, that the nation is away only a few months from electing its legal legislature, is a wise thing. If the President considered a legislature so important why did he agree to separate the presidential election from general elections in the first place? There was an infrastructure in place for elections and a large investment had covered, for the most part, major portion of the creation of that infrastructure. But then he only let presidential elections take place and waited until later for the general elections for a legislature. Perhaps he had learned that the delay would help him make all decisions he needed without bothering about parliamentary opposition at a critical time in the history of the country.

But now, he thinks he has found reason to make a drastic decision regarding granting of legal permanency to the stay of foreign military bases in Afghanistan. This decision is so big that even Mr. Karzai is afraid of making it on his own. And here is how politicking can help. President Karzai is scheduled to make a quick trip to the United States late this month for receiving of some (urgent!) honorary degrees from some universities including the University of Nebraska in Omaha. While in the United States, he would also make a stop at the White House for talks with the Untied Sates President George Bush. He is sure to raise the question of the need for making of arrangements regarding what he calls establishment of permanent military strategic relationship with the United States. If by then, he has the agreement from a handpicked shadow- if even unofficial legislature like a gathering of representatives of people and members of the last Constitutional Loya Jirga, he would be best prepared to conduct his talks with the United States President. That is high politicking strategy.

But back home in Afghanistan many see through his plans and there is an opposition that has already raised objections to the theme. Xinhuanet on May 7, 2005 reports: “One of President Hamid Karzai’s strong critics, Afghanistan National Congress Party (ANCP), has strongly opposed the proposal of establishing US permanent military bases in Afghanistan, a Kabul-based weekly reported Saturday. The report added that according to the weekly Payam-e-Mujahid such a decision would ” tantamount to the complete occupation of the country.”

It is now to be seen whether the gathering would agree to President Karzai and buy his argument of urgency of the matter, so much so that it could not wait another few months before Afghan parliamentary elections are concluded and before Afghanistan has the legislative body to help in making of grave decisions regarding the issue of national sovereignty of the country. It would also show whether invoking of a so-called legislature, a shadow legislature, would serve the purposes of the country’s main politician and his team of tutors and advisors. It will also tell us if the game of politicking played by Mr. Karzai would yield him any rewards. 5/07/05