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Cablegate: Events in Parliament; September 17 - 28

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0759
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
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SUBJECT: EVENTS IN PARLIAMENT; SEPTEMBER 17 - 28

1. (SBU) Summary: Parliament is completing the essential
business of considering, modifying and, if it chooses,
endorsing the 100-plus Presidential decrees enacted before
its creation, even as Speaker Qanooni's dispute with
President Karzai over presidential versus parliamentary
prerogatives escalates. The Meshrano Jirga (Upper House)
approved the UN Convention Against Corruption, and the Wolesi
Jirga (Lower House) passed the Structure of Government Bill;
both of these are London Compact Benchmarks. The parliament
also reached agreement on amendments to key pieces of
legislation regulating the media, passports, and morgues.
End Summary.

2. (U) Upper House Approves UN Convention Against Corruption
(UNCAC): The Upper House approved the UNCAC by a wide
majority on September 25 after determining that the
convention is consistent with Sharia law. During the debate,
convention proponents emphasized the importance of
Afghanistan's participation in international conventions and
treaties. Once President Karzai signs the convention, it
will become Afghan law. Final ratification would satisfy
London Compact benchmark 2.2, which calls for Afghanistan to
ratify the convention by March 20, 2008.

3. (U) Structure of Government Bill Approved in Lower House:
Lower House members, after weeks of sometimes acrimonious
argument, approved all but one article of the Structure of
Government bill. This bill derives from the London Compact,
which encouraged a rationalization of Afghanistan's many
governmental ministries to facilitate budgetary economies and
fiscal sustainability. The Lower House decided to fold only
the Ministry of Urban Development into another as yet
unidentified ministry. In addition, the Lower House decided
to eliminate the Anti-Corruption Commission. The house has
not yet passed the text of the bill to the Upper House.
According to Assistant Second Secretary of the Upper House,
Senator Abdul Khaliq, the Upper House "will drop everything"
and discuss the text once they receive it.

4. (SBU) Spanta Controversy Persists: Speaker of the Lower
House, Mohammad Yonus Qanooni, and members of the Qanooni's
United Front Group, sought to ratchet up pressure on
President Karzai to fire Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar
Spanta by twice cancelling confirmation hearings for three
Karzai appointees, once on September 20 and again on
September 27. The renewed calls for Spanta's dismissal cite
his alleged mishandling of refugee negotiations in Iran;
however, the foreign minister actually aroused warlord MPs'
ire by calling earlier this year for their prosecution as
human rights violators. Ambitious Lower House Speaker
Qanooni and MPs in his United Front Group have transformed
the May 2007 no-confidence vote on Spanta into a contest with
the Palace over interpretations of the constitutional power
granted to the executive and legislative branches.

5. (U) Upper House Approves Extradition Treaty: The Upper
House ratified prisoner extradition treaties with Tajikistan,
Russia, and Iran. Several MPs expressed the hope that a
similar treaty could be signed with Pakistan, to which many
eastern Afghans frequently travel.

6. (SBU) Sharia Central to Debate on Road Toll Reform Bill:
Lower House discussion of the bill to reform tolls on roads
leading into Kabul focused on the acceptability of
non-compliance fines under Sharia law. A block of
conservative Sunni MPs argued that such fines violate Sharia
in the Sunni religions tradition, and are thus
constitutionally unacceptable. Several Shia MPs argued in
favor of the bill. In an effort to close debate, some MPs
suggested sending the bill to the Supreme Court for
interpretation, while others recommended a parliamentary
committee study its religions implications. The Lower House
was unable to decide on a course of action. (Comment: This
debate once again illustrates the importance of Sharia law
interpretation to MPs' consideration of issues that to most
Westerners would seem to be entirely secular. Comment.)

7. (SBU) Lower House Approves Passport Bill, Later Rescinds
Decision: The Lower House initially approved the bill with

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minor amendments. Curiously, the same house reopened debate
on the bill several days later when a group of conservative
MPs argued it violated Sharia by allowing women to obtain
passports and, possibly, travel on their own without a male
family member escort. Speaker Qanooni attempted to convince
the conservatives that traveling alone and obtaining an
independent passport are separable issues, but opponents
succeeded in having the bill referred back to committee.

8. (SBU) Upper House Passes Police Reform Bill with
Recommendations: The Upper House recommended only that the
Lower House add a sentence prohibiting "war criminals" or
"human rights abusers" from becoming police officers. The
Upper House did not define either term. (Comment:
Interestingly, several MPs are suspected war criminals or
human rights-abusers or both. The Upper House's inclination
to marginalize human rights-abusers and war criminals, while
positive, may lead to difficulties in reconciling the two
houses' versions of the bill. End Comment.)

9. (SBU) Morgues-Regulation Bill Amended and Passed by Lower
House: The Lower House approved a morgues-regulation bill
with two amendments. MPs accepted an amendment stipulating
the importance of maintaining female doctors on morgue staffs
to examine female corpses. They also accepted an amendment
that would only permit organ donation from decedents who had
registered their consent to donate, or, in the case of a
mentally disabled decedent, with the consent of an authorized
family guardian. (Comment: The stipulation about
maintaining female doctors on morgue staffs is indicative of
this extremely conservative Muslim society's obsession with
maintaining separation between the genders. End Comment.)

10. (SBU) Comment: Qanooni-Karzai Contest Escalates:
Qanooni used his considerable political skills to increase
substantially parliament's through-put in late September, but
his machinations increasingly focus on a presidential run in
the next election and his most obvious opponent, Karzai.
Their continued power struggle has found expression in the
dispute over Spanta's fate, Qanooni's obstruction of Karzai's
nominations, debate over a constitutional commission to
replace the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the
Constitution and parliament's review of a new local
governance office established in the Palace to avoid
parliamentary oversight. As the election approaches, the
tension between the two men will likely increase and infect
more aspects of the parliament)Palace relationship. End
Comment.


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