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Europe

Germans Face Logistical Challenge of Loya Jirga

Faced with the task of picking a new government, Afghanistan’s tribal chiefs will be meeting for the grand assembly or “Loya Jirga” tomorrow in a massive Bavarian-style beer tent built by a German organisation.

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Local elections have already taken place to select delegates for the Loya Jirga

Till two months ago Andreas von Schumann didn’t know what a "Loya Jirga" meant. Today he’s organising it.

Commissioned by the German Technical Co-operation (GTZ) to head the Loya Jirga project, he’s now not just responsible for the 70 metres long and 40 metre wide tent where the delegates will be meeting, but also for the entire conference technology – computers, microphones, loudspeakers, headlights and the like.

In addition he has to find 500 local helpers, who are familiar with technology to set the whole thing up for the some 1,501 disparate Afghan delegates who will meet for an entire week to select a government to rule the war-torn country for the next two years.

The task is daunting in a country that is limping back to normalcy after 23 years of crushing civil war and is plagued by weak infrastructure, a barely existent economy and frequent factional skirmishes.

Schumann told the German Tagesspiegel newspaper that the project was one of the "craziest and most daring" ones he had ever undertaken.

Loya Jirga promises to be stormy

The proceedings of the Loya Jirga will be followed with interest by the US and its allies, who are banking on it to bring more stability to the country, where ethnic feuds, warlords and bandits pose a continuing threat to the interim government.

But observers fear much rumblings of discontent in the upcoming Loya Jirga where a key question has been whether the Loya Jirga will confirm the power-sharing arrangement between present leader Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun and the powerful ethnic minority Tajiks and Uzbeks of the Northern Alliance .

Under an agreement signed in Bonn, key government posts were given to the Northern Alliance, the bastion of resistance against the Taliban.

The move had angered a number of majority Pashtuns, the traditional rulers of Afghanistan where the Loya Jirga was an instrument used by them to enforce their rule for centuries.

Reports of rigging and strong-arm tactics

Even ahead of the Loya Jirga, the UN has reported violence and manipulation tactics on the sidelines of the assembly.

The UN envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi said that several efforts had been made to buy votes with money, violence and threats.

The international peacekeeping troops, the ISAF will throw a ring of security around Kabul and surrounding districts with armoured vehicles and helicopter patrols during the Loya Jirga.

GTZ faces mammoth logistical task

But while the power struggle between the various ethnic groups worries the world, the GTZ has been waging a struggle on its own ever since it received the contract from the UN four months ago – pulling off the logistics of organising the Loya Jirga.

Everything from mending the destroyed buildings on the university campus to throwing a security fence around the area to feeding the delegates and providing them with pencils and computers is its job.

To that effect, the German government has poured about 2,7 million euro for the work of the GTZ, thereby contributing generously to the estimated 6 million euro that are required to organise the Loya Jirga. The GTZ has flown in about 400 tonnes of material from Germany.

Housing and feeding for the delegates

The architect of the project, Horst Valentin Kräutner is no stranger to Kabul. As a young architect in the 1960s, he built factories, ministries and villas.

Today his job is to rework buildings on the Kabul university campus that have been riddled by bullets and shelling. The buildings of the former student dormitories that are to house the delegates during the Loya Jirga are so badly damaged that there’s no time to renovate them.

Instead workers are merely patching up the holes, painting the walls, replacing the broken window panes and cleaning up the toilets. In the old university cafeteria, local workers and cooks are being trained to whip up 6,000 dishes daily in the massive pots.

While the GTZ anxiously hopes that things go smoothly when former Afghan King Zahir Shah inaugurates the Loya Jirga on Monday, the Afghans can be rest assured that their grand assembly is in the hands of a people, probably best known for their organising skill.