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Afghanistan's Shadowlands
Democracy a la Carte: Afghan elders discuss the country's new constitution at a food-focused assembly in Gardez.

"One interesting thing about Afghanistan is that there is a very rigid social structure that you don't see right away. Tribal customs are found around the world and one of the most important things is that when you arrive you need to meet the person in charge. It might not always be evident as to who is actually in charge. Talk to the right person and things begin to flow smoothly. Talk to the wrong people, skip or forget tiny formalities, and you can find yourself extremely frustrated, or here in the Pashtun areas, much worse. When I was in Gardez there just happened to be a meeting of elders, so I arranged to be introduced to all of the senior people in the region at once.

"This photo shows a jirga, or assembly, which happened at the same time as the constitutional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) in Kabul. An Afghan NGO gathered these elders together to try and integrate them into the political process by holding a concurrent assembly. In their own way, they were trying to exert some influence on the goings-on in Kabul. This picture is telling because these people were all Taliban at one time, some are still aligned with the Taliban and others are now against them. But despite their affiliation, they are trying to integrate their viewpoints into the new Afghan government."

—Writer-Photographer Robert Young Pelton

Photo by Robert Young Pelton

April 2004

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