In an unusual development in present-day Afghanistan, the Meshrano Jirga (also called Senate, the upper house of the Parliament) achieved a fully operative status. The recent introduction of the appointed senators by President Karzai, although delayed, has made it one of the few state institutions with no missing, expired or unapproved (acting) members. It even duly elected its chairman and administrative board, although the fact that it was done before the senate was complete has complicated matters. AAN’s researcher Obaid Ali, and his colleagues, report on this remarkable institutional exception.
While the crises over the speaker’s election in the Wolesi Jirga deepened day by day, not in the least due to some overt and covert interference from different sides, the senators successfully elected their chairman and its administrative board on 29 January 2011. The vote was held in the absence of the 34 members (one-third of the house’s members) who were to be appointed by the President. This rang an alarm bell with President Karzai who, on 30 January 2011, sought the advice of the Independent Commission for the Supervision of the Implementation of the Constitution on the validity of such election. The opinion of the commission, issued on the same day, was indeed favourable to the President’s rejection of the senators’ decision, but the ‘view’ was dismissed the next day by the majority of the Meshrano Jirga, the elected speaker and his administrative delegates as ‘irrelevant and unfounded’.
Referring to article 84 of the constitution, commission chairman Gul Rahman Qazi argued that while the elected members of the Senate stay in office for four years (as they are all chosen from among the provincial council members), the mandate of the Senate Speaker is five years, which means that elected members of the house cannot hold that position.(*) The commission’s final advice was to hold a new round of elections once the senate was complete.
In the run-up to the inauguration of the parliament there had been repeated calls to the President to introduce his nominees, so that the complete National Assembly (Afghanista’s parliament, consisting of both houses) could be inaugurated. Maulawi Abdul Wahab Irfan, a senator from Takhar, reported that after the inauguration on 27 January, the senators held a meeting and again called on the President to introduce his appointments. When he failed to do so, Fazl-ul-Hadi Muslimyar and Abdul Anan Aqayun were nominated as candidates for the speaker position two days later, the latter eventually stepping down from the race before the vote. All 65 senators present showed their green card in acceptance of Muslimyar, while the three that were absent (one in Ghor province and two in India for medical treatment), agreed with the majority over the phone to elect him as the new speaker.
The senators met President Karzai on 1 February 2011, one day after the internal election of the speaker and the administrative board had taken place. Deputy Speaker Muhammad Alam Izedyar later reported to AAN: ‘President Karzai said the election for the speaker post may have been in line with the constitution, but it had not been in line with “andiwali” (friendship).’ Karzai reportedly added that ‘you should have waited for your friends [i.e. the missing 34 senators] to join the chamber, and then you should have held the speaker election’. The President did not clarify when he would introduce his new appointments, although he mentioned that they would probably include Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, along with some of the defeated candidates of the parliamentary election. ‘Some provinces might have three or four senators, while others may have none’, Karzai told them.
The senators asked the President to introduce the missing members soon, so that they could take part in the elections for the senate committee heads, whereas a further delay by the President meant that they would have the chance to do so only in the next round, which is held after one year. At the same time, the Meshrano Jirga members decided to proceed according to its own time schedule.
A senator from Badakshan, Golalai Akbari, told AAN that the upper house was not contacted by the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs. They were however told by Dr Sediq Mudaber, head of the Office for Administrative Affairs, that the President was on a trip abroad, but he may nominate his appointments in a few days. ‘We waited for another few days but when we still did not received any response from President Karzai or the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs, we elected the heads of twelve commissions on 5 February.’(**)
The position of the speaker of the Senate may not hold the same strategic relevance as its Wolesi Jirga counterpart, still it represents a prized title which the President may want to award to a political ally – which probably explains his disappointment with its – from his point of view – premature and independent installation.
In the meantime there is controversy over the the opinion of the Independent Commission for Supervision of the Implementation of the Constitution. The objection that only appointed senators are eligible for the position of speaker was not an issue five years ago, when two elected senators were competing with Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, the eventual winner of the first senate speaker election. The commission’s intervention is thus seen as more politically motivated than based on a legalistic approach.
The Takhar senator already quoted above also claimed that when some of the senators met Gul Rahman Qazi six months ago, the head of the commission conceded that all Meshrano Jirga members were free to run as candidates for the speaker position. ‘It is regrettable that a commission with such authority raises [such] an irresponsible and unfounded issue’ he added. Hafiz Abdul Qayum, a senator from Nuristan, argued that there are only three conditions to justify another round of elections in the house: a) death of the speaker; b) deposal by decision of the majority of senators; c) resignation. Apart from these three situations, any re-election would be unconstitutional, he said.
It seems that the Senate has so far survived the presidential palace’s interference and managed to elect its speaker and administrative board independently – while the President was distracted by the outcome of the parliamentary election, the inauguration of the Wolesi Jirga and the election of its speaker. The majority of the MJ members since then seem to have ignored the President’s wishes.(***) It will be difficult for the President to accept a Senate where his former boss Mujadeddi – he chaired Jabha-ye Nejat, one of the major 1980s mujahedin organisations of which Karzai was a member and also was Interim President in 1992 when Karzai served as deupty foreign minister – is not the speaker.
The ethnic breakdown of the Meshrano Jirga, as provided by its office and the Palace, is as follows:
Pashtun 30 (elected by provincial council) +11 (selected by president Karzai)
Tajik 16 + 6
Sadat 7 + 2
Hazara 5 + 3
Turkman 3 + 1
Uzbek 2 + 3
Aimaq 2 + 0
Nuristani 2 + 0
Pashai 1 + 0
Hindu 0 + 1
Kuchi 0 + 2
Gujar 0 + 1
Baluch 0 + 1
Bayat (Qizilbash) 0 + 2
Mujadeddi (****) 0 + 1
(*) Altogether, there are 102 members in the upper house: 34 apponted by the President (including, by law, 17 women, two Kochi and two disabled), 34 elected by the provincial councils (PC), and 34 elected from among the district councils (DC). As there are currently no district councils in Afghanistan, it has been decided that the provincial councils, temporarily, fill the DC seats, too.
The mentioned article of the Constitution specifies the duration in office of the three categories of senators: four years for those elected among provincial councils; three years for those elected through district councils; five years for those appointed by the President. Further interpretation is the commission’s authority.
(**) Below the details of the speaker, the administrative board and the 12 commissions with their respective heads:
Speaker: Fazl-ul-Hadi Muslimyar (Nangrahar province)
First Deputy: Muhammad Azam Izedyar (Panjshir)
Second Deputy: Haji Rafiullah (Kabul)
Secretary: Abdul Wali Raji (Baghlan)
Deputy Secretary: Sayed Azizullah Ulfati (Jowzjan)
1) International Affairs commission: Arefullah Pashtun (Khost)
2) National Economy, Finance and Budget commission: Maulawi Abdul Wahab Irfan (Takhar)
3) Legislative, Justice and Judiical Affairs commission: Maulawi Ghulam Mohluddin Monsef (Kapisa)
4) Public Service, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs commission: Abdul Anan Haqayun (Paktia)
5) Transport and Telecommunication Affairs commission: Eng. Ahmad Jawed Rauf (Herat)
6) Complaints commission: Dr. Zalmai Zabuli (Zabul)
7) Provincial and District Councils Affairs commission: Mukaram Khan Naseri (Laghman)
8) Border and Tribal Affairs commission: Haji Boy Murad (Jowzjan)
9) Security and Defense Affairs commission: Bibi Roh Gul Khairzad (Nimroz)
10) Women and Civic Society Affairs commission: Khair-ul-Nesa Ghami (Nimroz)
11) Religious, Cultural, Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research Affairs commission: Maulawi Mahmud Daneshjo (Balkh)
12), Martyrs and Disabled commission: Sayed Muhammad Sadad (Daikondi)
(***) No comprehensive political affiliation breakdown of the Meshrano Jirga is available, but among the groups represented Hezb-e Islami seems to enjoy a relative majority, followed by Jamiat-e Islami, Dawat-e Islami andHezb-e Wahdat-e Melli. According to the senators themselves, however, the party affiliation does not have that much significance inside the MJ.
(****) The elevation of the Mujaddedi family to a seperate tribe was criticized by Hasht-e Sobh newpaper (In: ‘Meshrano Jirga, an Antiques’ Museum’, 21 February 2011)
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020