Gather to Create New Constitution||
Hundreds of tribal elders are gathering in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to debate
and adopt a new constitution in a traditional assembly called the loya jirga.
The meeting is a crucial step in the path toward democracy following the U.S.-led
ouster of the hard-line religious Taliban government in December 2001.
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The current transitional government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, presented
a draft constitution to the public a month ago. A final document must be ratified
by the loya jirga.
500 participants in the meeting were selected during secret ballot elections in
32 provinces over the past few weeks.
Separate special elections were held
for women, refugees and other minority groups, with a limited number of seats
reserved for each.
United Nations observers said the voting proceeded fairly,
although there were reports from smaller villages that residents felt they had
to vote for the representatives put forth by the local war lords.
The debate promises to
be contentious, as the delegates try to reconcile the traditional rural and religious
elements of Afghan society, with the push toward women's rights, modernization
After the loya jirga adopts a constitution -- debate is expected
to continue over the next few weeks -- the next step will be presidential and
parliamentary elections next year, according a political process outlined by the
role of religion|
The draft constitution -- 12 chapters and 160 articles long -- was written
by a 35-member constitution commission, which sent out 500,000 questionnaires
and held countless meetings in villages across the country seeking input. One
of the issues that the writers knew would be contentious is the role of Islamic
law in the new government.
draft starts by declaring that "Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic."
Followers of other faiths are free to perform their religious ceremonies as long
as these do not undermine Islam, according to the document. In addition, "no
law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this constitution."
some Afghans, the language is too strong. Professor Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, the president
of lawyers union of Afghanistan told IRINNEWS, an information service of the United
Nations, that many Afghans are worried that statements enshrining Islam in the
constitution could be used to promote extremism in the future.
would like to see more of a focus on religious law. "We want Islamic law,
not international law.
If I am elected to the loya jirga, I will employ
all my boldness as a former freedom fighter to eliminate or amend every un-Islamic
term," Mahmad Samander, a teacher from the providence of Ghazni, told a Washington
power of the presidency|
Another controversial issue is the amount of power given to the president.
The draft constitution envisions a strong presidency, elected directly by the
people, with five-year terms and a limit of two terms.
position of prime minister was included in previous versions but was cut from
the final draft. It was thought that a prime minister could become a political
and military rival to a president.
However critics like Ranjbar disagree
and believe that Afghanistan needs a parliamentary system with both a president
and prime minister. "A presidential system is dangerous after decades of
totalitarian regimes, it is more likely that giving so much authority to a president
will eventually lead to another dictatorship," he said.
rights and women's rights|
The draft constitution has critics on many sides. Human rights groups have
said the draft constitution does not adequately protect women's rights, or create
an independent court system. Student groups have protested that it does not guarantee
the right to free higher education.
When Washington Post reporter Pamela
Constable attended a meeting to elect loya jirga representatives from the province
of Gardez, she found that the gathered elders agreed, in principle, that women
should be able to participate in the assembly. However, the lone female candidate
spent the day alone in a classroom, cut off from all the discussion.
my district, none of the women knew anything about the loya jirga, including me,
and none of us was given a chance to read the constitution," said the 28-year-old
health care worker.
threat of violence|
The loya jirga is proceeding despite threats from Taliban insurgents who have
promised to disrupt the meeting. On Saturday at least 15 people were wounded after
a bomb attached to a bicycle exploded in Kandahar.
At the same time, thousands
of U.S. and Afghan soldiers are conducting raids on Taliban strongholds throughout
the country. Military officials say "Operation Avalanche" is the largest
operation in Afghanistan since the end of the war to overthrow the Taliban two
years ago. So far, the military says the mission has had success, although two
military blunders have caused the deaths of 15 children and several adult civilians.
Leah Clapman, Online NewsHour