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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Profile: Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar
Afghan men listen to news of the loya jirga on the radio
Qasimyr was elected with little opposition
Afghanistan's grand national assembly, the loya jirga, has elected Mohammed Ismail Qasimyar as its chairman.

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar
Qasimyr returned from exile in Iran

This is a ceremonial post with little executive authority other than to chair the proceedings of the loya jirga.

However, the fact that delegates to the assembly debated for hours before electing Mr Qasimyar to this short-lived appointment underscores the challenges facing him.

This, however, is not Mr Qasimyar's first loya jirga.

As an eminent professor of law at Kabul university in the 1960s, he played a role in Afghanistan's transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.

Considerable experience

Mr Qasimyar was a member of the loya jirga convened by the king in 1964 which endorsed Afghanistan's new constitution and legitimised the transition to a constitutional monarchy.

Nine years later, former Prime Minister General Mohammad Daud mounted a coup against the king and turned Afghanistan into a republic.

Delegates from Kandahar confer during the loya jirga
The loya jirga has seen vigorous debate
To legitimise this change, he too called a loya jirga, in 1976.

Professor Qasimyar was appointed a member of the loya jirga secretariat which organised and managed the assembly.

Despite his established position within the Kabul elite, Mr Qasimyar faced many difficulties in the years that followed as Afghanistan went through a bloody Marxist revolution, a series of abortive coups, a Soviet invasion and anti-Soviet insurrection supported by a US-led international coalition.

He survived on the margins of this turbulence while much of Afghanistan was reduced to rubble.

However, when the mujahideen ("army of holy warriors") captured Kabul in 1992 and began a purge of opponents marked out on the basis of their ethnic identity and religious belief, Mr Qasimyar felt his life was seriously threatened.

Little criticism

A member of the small Kizilbash community from the western Herat province, Mr Qasimyar could not seek protection from any of the Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek or Hazara militias.

He fled to Iran, where he remained until quite recently.

The United Nations committee responsible for initiating the loya jirga process appointed him the head of the special commission for convening the grand assembly.

His election as the chairman of the loya jirga thus takes that appointment to its logical conclusion.

Although the delegates debated passionately before his election, the only major criticism voiced against Mr Qasimyar was that his age was more than 65.


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