- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan In a heady day of noise, confusion, shouting, interminable delays and poetic speeches calling for unity and peace, Afghans yesterday enjoyed their first experience of democracy after 23 years of war.
About 1,500 Afghan delegates reveled in a sometimes chaotic debate inside and outside the tent where the loya jirga, or national assembly, began to decide the future of the nation.
In their speeches, men and women criticized almost every warlord and politician in the country, often by name, for devastating Afghanistan. The warlords and ministers sitting in the front rows listened in stony silence.
Others said the Americans and other foreigners were interfering in Afghan democracy by forcing the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, to turn down a formal post in the new administration.
"We don't want the loya jirga to be a rubber stamp," said Mohammed Daud, a Pashtun delegate from Kabul. "It will be hypocritical for the West to send soldiers to help democracy and then interfere when the democratic process starts."
Some delegates were furious at the lack of free votes, and 60 to 70 walked out of the meeting.
Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed leader of the interim administration and likely president, added to the confusion after the opening ceremony Tuesday when he told some journalists that he already had the job in the bag.
"It is finished," he said. "The assembly has voted for me." A spokesman for Mr. Karzai said that the leader had made "a mistake."
The council did not deal with its first main business, the election of a chairman.
The vote, which had still not taken place by nightfall, is important because it could also help decide whether Mr. Karzai will have to face opponents for the office of president, who will lead the country for the next two years.
The two main candidates for chairman are the acting chairman, Ismail Qasimyar, and Azizullah Wassafi, who is loyal to the former king.
If Mr. Wassafi wins, then it will encourage other politicians to try for the presidency.
Meanwhile, outside the gates of the loya jirga, a vehicle carrying four armed bodyguards belonging to Ahmed Wali Masood, the brother of the assassinated Northern commander Ahmed Shah Masood, was stopped by German troops of the International Security Assistance Force, who disarmed them.
Afghan Gen. Sayaf Khalil said the foreign troops overreacted. However, Mr. Masood said it was a minor incident.

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