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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Date set for key Afghan forum
Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai's administration will stand down in June
Afghan officials say a traditional council of leaders - a Loya Jirga - will meet between 10 and 16 June to choose a new transitional government.

More than two-thirds of the 1,450 Loya Jirga members will be elected to the body. The membership will include at least 160 women.

Loya Jirga
1,450 delegates
1,051 elected members
Guaranteed seats for 160 women
53 seats for current government
100 seats for Afghan refugees and six for internally displaced Afghans
25 seats for nomads
The head of the organising commission, Ismail Qasimyr, said Afghanistan's ex-king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, would return from exile on 16 April to call the assembly into session.

"You see for the first time in our national life, our modern history, a loya jirga that has and enjoys the most and broadest legitimacy," said Qasimyr, a specialist in constitutional law.

The new transitional government is scheduled to take over from the interim administration led by Hamid Karzai and to govern for 18 months until elections are held.

Mr Karzai's administration is due to bow out of office on 22 June. It has been given 53 seats in the Loya Jirga.

Tajik influence

The current interim government is dominated by Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley - the backbone of the Northern Alliance forces which, with US help, toppled the Taleban.

Afghan nomads
Afghan nomads: The Loya Jirga reflects the country's diversity
The plan for a Loya Jirga emerged from the agreement reached last December by Afghan factions in Germany, which established the interim government.

In addition to elected representatives from the provinces, the Loya Jirga will have nomads, refugees, religious men, representatives of cultural and academic associations and members of the religious minorities - Sikhs and Hindus.

"Especially significant is the number of women who will be represented," said Mr Qasimyr.

Tradition

The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old system for reaching consensus in Afghanistan's tribal society.

Among the requirements for membership, candidates

  • Must be at least 22 years old
  • Must have no link with terrorist organisations
  • Must not have been involved in spreading or smuggling narcotics, abuse of human rights, war crimes or looting of public property
  • Must not have been involved in the killing of innocent people

The BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says the requirements could cause problems for some members of the current government who are accused of war crimes.

Various warlords and faction leaders are vying for power across Afghanistan.

But the UN is to send foreign and Afghan observers to the provincial elections, and international peacekeepers will help oversee the Loya Jirga itself.

Our correspondent says that, if Afghans are allowed to act freely, they are likely to choose the most democratic government their country has ever seen.

See also:

25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Q&A: What is a loya jirga?
01 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan king to return home
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
First step for Afghan democracy
01 Apr 02 | South Asia
Ten years on: Kabul's new face
21 Mar 02 | Business
Afghanistan's new economic start
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghans celebrate women's day
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