Karzai agrees to con­vene par­lia­ment

Afghan pres­i­dent had ear­lier walked out of talks with law­mak­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JOSH BOAK AND JOSHUA PART­LOW boakj@wash­post.com part­lowj@wash­post.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Javed Ham­dard con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Kabul — Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai walked out of a volatile meet­ing Satur­day about when the coun­try’s new par­lia­ment should con­vene, only to re­turn with a prom­ise that the leg­is­la­ture would meet Wed­nes­day, just three days later than sched­uled, Afghan law­mak­ers said.

The agree­ment ap­pears to side­step a dis­pute that had sparked con­cerns about the vi­a­bil­ity of a govern­ment al­ready hard­pressed by its war with Tal­iban ex­trem­ists and its de­pen­dence on in­ter­na­tional aid.

“Mem­bers of par­lia­ment were happy,” said Nader Khan Katawazai, a law­maker from the south­east­ern prov­ince of Pak­tika. “And Karzai was happy, too.”

Ten­sions mounted last Wed­nes­day when Karzai de­layed the open­ing of par­lia­ment by a month. A spe­cial court he had ap­pointed had not fin­ished in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims that fraud and vi­o­lence sti­fled voter turnout in his po­lit­i­cal base of south­ern Afghanistan dur­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Septem­ber.

Un­der the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent is re­spon­si­ble for in­au­gu­rat­ing the par­lia­ment.

Law­mak­ers, who ar­gued that the pres­i­dent was ex­ceed­ing his le­gal author­ity in or­der­ing the de­lay, re­sponded that the new par­lia­ment would con­vene as sched­uled on Sun­day, even if the pres­i­dent did not at­tend.

Karzai in­vited all 249 elected mem­bers to dis­cuss the stand­off over lunch Satur­day at the pres­i­den­tial palace.

Some law­mak­ers had ear­lier voiced doubt that a set­tle­ment could be reached, point­ing out that their ob­jec­tions were about more than just tim­ing. Karzai had un­der­mined the govern­ment’s le­git­i­macy and em­bold­ened the Tal­iban, they said, by not seat­ing a par­lia­ment cho­sen by vot­ers al­most five months ear­lier.

Ac­cord­ing to the con­sti­tu­tion, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion val­i­dates elec­tion re­turns. The tri­bunal set up by Karzai could not over­rule the com­mis­sion, mem­bers said.

At the lunch meet­ing, Karzai asked law­mak­ers to sign a doc­u­ment say­ing that they would not chal­lenge charges brought by the spe­cial court, said Ahmed Be­hzad, a law­maker from western Herat prov­ince.

“Luck­ily, all of us par­lia­ment mem­bers re­jected that pro­posal,” Be­hzad said.

An­other law­maker stood up and said that the court in­ves­ti­ga­tion could con­tinue, but that the pres­i­dent should also in­au­gu­rate the par­lia­ment, a prom­i­nent Afghan politician said, adding that Karzai re­sponded, “Put that on a piece of paper, and I will do it.” The pres­i­dent then an­grily left the meet­ing, sev­eral law­mak­ers said.

A mem­ber of Karzai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nied that the pres­i­dent had be­come ir­ri­tated and de­scribed his de­par­ture as “cor­dial.”

With Karzai gone, the law­mak­ers chose to have 34 of their col­leagues— one from each prov­ince — wait. The meet­ing re­sumed about 5:30 p.m. and lasted about 90 min­utes, con­clud­ing with Karzai’s pledge to in­au­gu­rate the par­lia­ment Wed­nes­day.

In ex­change, law­mak­ers agreed to per­mit the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions to con­tinue, as long as they were con­sti­tu­tional, Katawazai said.

AH­MAD MA­SOOD/REUTERS

Mem­bers of the Afghan par­lia­ment gather at Kabul’s In­ter­con­ti­nen­talHo­tel dur­ing the dis­cus­sions.

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