- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan They'll all be there, or at least nearby: a former president and a former king, warlords and ministers, and would-be power brokers, all comers from all corners looking to assert influence for a new era.
When the loya jirga, or grand council, convenes today as part of a U.N. mandate to pick a transitional government, many inside the big white tent and just as many outside it will be vying for positions and influence in the always contentious, often violent arena that is Afghan politics.
"Competition is already simmering," said Aziz Ahmad, a political scientist at Kabul University.
Even before the session begins, the loya jirga has run into trouble. Its start was postponed from this morning until later in the afternoon because of differences over the role of the country's former king, diplomatic sources said.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai met last night with former monarch Mohammed Zahir Shah to try to work out a compromise that would satisfy former Northern Alliance leaders, who do not want any role for the ex-king, the sources said on the condition of anonymity.
The nonconfrontational Mr. Karzai is considered most likely to be chosen to head the transitional government and is least objectionable to the assorted political factions. The 87-year-old former king, who is back from a generation in exile, is held up as a patriarchal, if not political, figure.
"The first power struggle is defining a role for the king," said Alexander Thier, Kabul representative for the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization.
Some warn that a government without a role for the king is unacceptable and could produce chaos.
There is Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of Afghanistan during the final phase of the calamitous mujahideen years and still eager to lead. There are Ismail Khan and Gen. Rashid Dostum, warlords of the west and north, respectively, each commanding a potent army, each seeking to preserve power.
First, however, the loya jirga must appoint a meeting chairman a procedural post but one with influence over the outcome.
If the loya jirga commission's chairman, Ismail Qasim Yar, is tapped, his sympathies to Northern Alliance members who opposed the Taliban could affect the new government's makeup. Many believe senior Karzai adviser Ashraf Ghani would run a more internationally minded grand council.
Then there are the delegates and the issue of whether they can jockey politically on a national level without their guns.
"Do people already know which caucus they belong to? Or will there be horse-trading on the floor where people will be discovering what their affinity is?" Mr. Thier asked. "How will these rivalries surface?"
The "big three" interim ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs Mohammed Fahim, Yunus Qanooni and Abdullah, respectively are pivotal.

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