Outrage at appointment of chairman stops jirga

It was billed as the national conference that brought together the country's senior figures in a concerted push for peace. It was never going to be that easy.

When Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president, was appointed chairman of the peace jirga yesterday, it sparked outrage among the 1,600 delegates and led to an hour-long halt to proceedings. The plan had been to elect a chairman. But shortage of time meant that organisers appointed him to the post.

It was not just that Mr Rabbani is so closely linked with some of the most notorious warlords in the country that he has been referred to as their "godfather".

He also established a reputation for brutality in his fight in the 1990s against the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami, another insurgent faction that sent emissaries to Kabul to discuss peace earlier this year.

"When he was nominated... there was uproar on the floor, tension, and the meeting was adjourned for one hour," Mir Ahmad Joyenda, an MP who was there, told The Independent. "Many [delegates think] he is part of the problem, not the solution. The people were not happy. There was a great noise."

Afzal Ahmadzai, a former senator, led some of the protests, shouting: "This is injustice, the position should be decided through election," according to a local news agency. Delegates say the commotion was so fervent that Mr Rabbani promptly refused the position and left.

At this point, Mr Joyenda said, the entire peace jirga was adjourned while the prominent politician and former warlord, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, chased after Mr Rabbani, and his other allies lobbied for his appointment, arguing it was a largely symbolic role anyway.

Things finally got back on track with Mr Rabbani agreeing to chair the convention an hour after the fracas. This time, "the people kept quiet, agreed, were scared what to do, what not to do", Mr Joyenda said.

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