REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- The last time a traditional loya jirga, a grand council meeting, was held in the Afghan capital, the Taliban fired rockets at the gathering and President Hamid Karzai had to be hustled away by his security detail.
Afghan officials insist that they are confident about preparations in place for Wednesday's planned meeting of nearly 2,000 tribal elders, community leaders and foreign dignitaries -- even as the Taliban unleashed a new volley of threats against participants and political rivals slammed Karzai’s motives for holding the jirga.
At the top of the meeting's agenda is a long-term security agreement between the United States and the Afghan government. In a statement released Monday, the Taliban blasted the proposed pact as a bid by Americans to engage in a long-term occupation of Afghanistan.
"The permanent presence of America and other invaders spells nothing but the absolute fall and decline for our glorious nation," the statement said, warning that "infidel" forces would suffer an ignominious defeat.
Over the weekend, the Taliban obtained and posted what its leaders said was a copy of the government's security plan for the jirga.
The NATO force and the Afghan government said the document was false, but an Afghan official familiar with security preparations for the jirga said privately that at least some of the publicized material appeared authentic.
Tribal leaders and parliamentarians say they have received threatening text messages ordering them not to attend the jirga.
"I just got one," said Ahmad Farhad Majidi, a lawmaker from Herat province. "I have to say that, unfortunately, no Afghan citizen is safe, including the president."
Karzai's political critics, meanwhile, called the jirga an attempt to circumvent parliament and a misuse of a traditional Afghan decision-making mechanism. Similar criticisms were raised prior to a jirga convened in June 2010.
"It has no legal basis, it goes against the constitution and its objectives are absolutely unclear," said Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's onetime foreign minister who unsuccessfully tried to unseat him in presidential elections two years ago. "The people ... will consider it a waste of time."
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses reporters during a recent news conference. Credit: Ahmad Jamshid / Associated Press