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Afghanistan War: Karzai inaugurates new Parliament, reluctantly

Bowing to pressure, Afghan president convenes newly-elected Parliament.

Western officials were not happy with the president’s actions or his words. Privately, many express dismay and even anger at Karzai’s attitude.

“Karzai has gone completely round the bend,” said one Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But still he is gaming us. He knows we will never stand up to him. We just don’t know what to do.”

Karzai eventually backed down, but not before obtaining a signed agreement from the acting speaker of the Parliament, Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, as well as his deputy and the secretary, to honor the findings of the Special Tribunal.

The U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the opening of the Parliament, in a determinedly upbeat statement issued Wednesday.

“The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan … welcomes the understanding reached in the recent exchanges between the Office of the President of Afghanistan and the Afghan parliament agreeing the inauguration of the National Assembly on 26 January,” read the statement. “It further commends the spirit of cooperation between the Presidential Office and the recently elected members of Parliament … This process has revealed that a healthy debate is underway amongst Afghanistan’s democratic institutions, an encouraging sign of a progressing democracy.”

It remains to be seen whether the “healthy debate” will survive the first sessions of the new legislature. Some, including Afghan legal expert Abdul Satar Sadaat, expect the Parliament to use its power to try and void the establishment of the Special Tribunal, thereby plunging right into the murky waters of separation of powers.

“The very first decision these parliamentarians are going to take will be forbidding the establishment of special courts,” he said. “Their first act will be illegal.”

Karzai’s actions in trying to overturn the elections might have, in fact, had the contradictory effect of uniting a body that had seemed politically fractured, and ethnically at loggerheads.

“(The president) can certainly utilize — abuse, to be more precise about it — the special court mechanism to intimidate individual candidates who are not clearly aligned with political forces that oppose him publicly,” said Janan Mosazai, a political analyst and an unsuccessful candidate in September’s elections.

“The real test of this session is whether or not the individual new MPs will prove to have the intelligence, vision and capacity to strengthen the unity they seem to have achieved as a result of President Karzai's antics in the past several weeks,” he continued. “A parliament that speaks more with one voice will be a healthy counterweight to a president who's been acting as though the separation of power in the Afghan constitution is a joke or an inconvenient nuisance he can continue to willfully ignore.”