World Watch: At last, an Afghan parliament
Afghanistan's new parliament has finally been announced, after weeks of delay because of allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing. Now that those accusations have been investigated (and 50 election workers dismissed in the process), the real work is about to begin.
"The Bonn process has been completed, but now comes the hard partactually governing," says a senior administration official, referring to the 2001 conference in Germany about setting up a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.
The new parliament is set to convene for the first time on December 18 and19. Almost half of the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, or lower house, consists of men with jihadi rootsformer commanders who fought against the Soviets in the '80s. Many belong to warring factions that at some point in the past fought to the death against one another.
One strongman who wrestled his way back into power is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former militia leader accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch. A number of former Taliban also won seats, including Abdul Salaam Rocketi (named for his skill at shooting rockets), who fought against the Northern Alliance and coalition forces in 2001 but has since reconciled with the government. Another former Taliban representative was the minister who oversaw the destruction of the two massive 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in Bamiyan province.
One big question is whether President Hamid Karzai will be able to develop the necessary coalitions to effectively govern. He will have some help from the Meshrano Jirga, or upper house, one third of which will be made up of presidential appointees. (The remainder of the 102-member house will be chosen by the provincial councils.) The last time Afghanistan had this sort of power-sharing structure between the executive and legislative branches was in the 1960s, when there was much antagonism between government ministers and members of parliament. (The coup in 1973 and Soviet occupation from 19791989 prevented more elections from taking place.)
Though women, for whom a quarter of the seats were set aside, will number 68 in the new parliament, most have little political backing and will find it difficult to have much of a voice in the new assemblythat is, unless they learn to build coalitions with one another.
Another question will be how much influence is wielded in the legislature by those involved in the drug trade, which accounted for half of the country's gross domestic product last year.
"It's not a question of whether drug lords have infiltrated the parliament," says one western diplomat. "It's how many."