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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 01:45 GMT 02:45 UK
Afghans start key reform process
Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai's administration will stand down in June
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By Kate Clark
BBC correspondent in Mazar-e-Sharif

The next stage of Afghanistan's journey from Taleban rule towards a more democratic future begins on Monday.

The district of Mardyan in the far northern province of Jowzjan will be the first to choose its representatives at the start of a process which will end in a grand national gathering in June.

Afghan nomads
Afghan nomads: The Loya Jirga will reflect the country's diversity
Some 1,500 delegates will assemble for the loya jirga in the capital Kabul to select the next government.

If everything works out, Afghanistan will have its most democratic government ever, in just over two months.

There has been no census in Afghanistan for decades and that means direct elections are not yet possible.

But there are strong democratic traditions - Afghans are used to sitting down for hours, thrashing out issues and reaching decisions by consensus.

The people of Mardyan will spend most of Monday in public meetings choosing representatives who will then select delegates for the loya jirga in June.

Warlords and confusion

The main fear is the power of commanders and warlords.

The fall of the Taleban left three different armed factions in control of the north.

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
One man said there would be a free choice, if the warlords allowed it.

The other problem is that ordinary Afghans do not seem to know what the arrangements are for the loya jirga: when it will be held, how the delegates will be chosen, what it will do.

Clearly the United Nations-supported loya jirga commission has a huge public information challenge on its hands, not easy in a country where the media is basically confined to the radio.

But once the process gets underway it should become clearer to the average Afghan.

See also:

25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Q&A: What is a loya jirga?
12 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan king to return 'next week'
31 Mar 02 | South Asia
Date set for key Afghan forum
15 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan king to return home
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
First step for Afghan democracy
15 Apr 02 | South Asia
Ten years on: Kabul's new face
21 Mar 02 | Business
Afghanistan's new economic start
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