While a meeting of tribal leaders and politicians - the Loya Jirga - convenes in Kabul, the people of Afghanistan have mixed reactions about the joint security agreement with the US.
Residents of the Afghan capital are finding themselves stuck in heavy traffic. Some of them are trying to dodge it by taking the dusty, beat-up roads on foot to get to their destinations. In order to ease the congestion, the government has declared the next few days up to Sunday, November 24, a holiday - with public institutions being closed. Sunday is the day the Loya Jirga is expected to be finished with their negotiations over the joint security pact with the US. The city's residence have to go a long way out of their way around the premicise of the meeting - everyone has been on high alert since a Taliban suicide bomber killed 10 people last weekend.
In his opening speech for the Loya Jirga, Pesident Hamid Karzai on Thursday, November 21, called on the delegates of the council to vote in favor of the agreement. Only then, he said, would Afghanistan have the chance to acheive stability during a decade-long transitional period. At the same time, he made no attempts to euphemize his perception of Washington. "They don't trust me and I don't trust them," he told the delegates.
"Americans should go"
One of the main points of contention regarding the security pact is the question of legal jurisdiction over US troops. The Americans would like to see their soldiers under US jurisdiction, while many in Afghanistan believe they should adhere to Afghan law.
"We don't accept that American soldiers should enjoy legal immunity here. They would all be able to commit crimes and we wouldn't be able to say or do anything about it," says Sayed Aqeel from Ghazni province. "They expect us to sign this agreement with our blood, but we will never allow that. If the delegates are true Muslims, they will vote against the pact."
Haji Malem from the restive Wardak province is against any further deployment of US security forces. "Of course we want to live in a secure environment. But I think the Americans should leave. We don't need the foreigners; we can do just fine on our own."
"Loya Jirga not legitimate"
While the Loya Jirga is a time honored institution in Afghanistan, a number of delegates think Karzai is using it as a front to gain support. "It is a meaningless event," says Abdullah from Ghazni. "Our leaders have already voted in favor of the agreement and now they are trying to pretend it is a democratic process," the 42-year-old told DW. Nonetheless, he added, there was no alternative to the agreement. "We need the pact. As soon as you leave Kabul, there is no security."
Neda, a law student from the northern province of Balkh is also in favor of the agreement, but she is against the Loya Jirga: "This Jirga is not legitimate." The president, she told DW, went against the country's constitution by calling the Jirga into life in the first place; Karzai is bypassing the parliament, which should make the final decision. She also criticized the large amount of money being spent on the meeting, which is expected to last for over four days.
Youth and women under-represented
The council consists of 2,500 delegates from all over the country. But most of the delegates are white-bearded men - not the optimal candidates to represent women and young people. While there are some women among the delegates, there are not enough, according to Zeba Barakzai. "My expectations are that the Jirga represent the interests of Afghan women as well. The agreement should continue to support women's rights." But, the woman from Khost province pointed out, the few women among police and military units now don't seem to be of any importance.
Hassan Rabbani, head of a youth association in Balkh says young Afghans are not represented at the Jirga at all. "Without the participation of the country's youth, this council is meaningless. The future of our country cannot be decided without them." They could have at least been asked their opinion, he said.
According to the UN, over 75 percent of Afghans are under the age of 30. So it is all the more incomprehensible that most of the delegates are much older than this, said Tamana Faqri, who belongs to a youth association. "The delegates either have positions in government or they are very old and represent a tribe. Young people, who are the future of Afghanistan, are not being considered at all."