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    171 MPs intend to attend Loya Jirga

    KABUL (PAN): The number of Wolesi Jirga members, intending to take part in this month's Loya Jirga, has reached 171, but still others MPs stand firm on their previous decision of staying away from the event.

    More than 2,000 government officials and elders are scheduled to meet on November 16 in Kabul to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement. The gathering will also confer on a mechanism for peace negotiations with Afghan insurgents.

    Participants, who will arrive in the capital four days ahead of the event, will be briefed on the objective behind the grand assembly. Beginning on Nov. 16, the deliberations will continue for four days.

    All sitting parliamentarians, some former MPs, 30 percent members of each provincial council, representatives of civil society and special people, religious scholars and influential tribal elders will attend the jirga

    On July 29, 126 of the 249 parliamentarians raised green cards, condemning the planned gathering as unconstitutional. They vowed not to take part in the assembly.

    Under the constitution, the jirga involving parliamentarians, provincial and district council members is the highest manifestation of people's will. However, the grand assembly will convene at a time when district councils are yet to be established

    Deputy speaker Khalid Pakhtun told Saturday's session that 171 MPs had filled out forms to attend the assembly and several others were expected to do so.

    Only 77 MPs have not yet filled out the forms. Pakhtun said he himself filled out the form to participate in the Jirga after Speaker Abdul Rauf discussed the event with President Hamid Karzai. The President had told the speaker that it was an advisory Jirga and all opinions expressed at the event would be referred to the Wolesi Jirga for discussion.

    However, a lawmaker from eastern Nangarhar province, Abdul Qadir Zahir, who is also head of the Law Supporting Coalition, said attending the Jirga was a violation of the house's unanimous decision. "If you want to see a sovereign parliament, you should not attend the Jirga," the legislator remarked.

    Calling the Jirga a parallel institution to the lower house, he said it was a decision-making forum and that the government wanted to usurp the legislature's powers through convening such gatherings.

    Another MP from central Daikundi, Sadiqizada Neli, said the Jirga had no legal basis and that it resembled the Loya Jirga as outlined in the constitution.  He said the legislature should ask the government about funds allocated for the gathering. He accused the government of inviting "selected people" to the Jirga.

    However, a representative from Kabul, Syed Hussain Almi Balkhi, said there was no legal problem in convening a traditional Jirga because it would play an advisory role. He said the Wolsi Jirga had no right to bar MPs from attending a meeting.