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Afghan Constitution Emerges At Last (more)

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  • Paul
    U.N. Wire Afghan Constitution Emerges At Last Monday, November 3, 2003 Afghanistan s long-awaited draft constitution was unveiled today as a high-level U.N.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2003
      U.N. Wire
      Afghan Constitution Emerges At Last
      Monday, November 3, 2003
      Afghanistan's long-awaited draft constitution was unveiled today as a
      high-level U.N. delegation began its tour of the country to assess national
      security ahead of next month's loya jirga, where the draft constitution will
      be debated and ratified (London Guardian, Nov. 3).

      A red-bound copy of the first official version of the constitution was
      presented at a formal ceremony in Kabul to Afghan President Hamid Karzai,
      former King Mohammad Zaher Shah and U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
      Drafts were handed out in Dari and Pashto, with an English version made
      available by email.

      Conflicting pressures to establish a secular state while not offending a
      powerful religious establishment resulted in a document that avoids direct
      mention of Shariah, or Islamic holy law, but stipulates that "in
      Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the
      values of this Constitution." The constitution opens by declaring that
      "Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic," but assures that practitioners of
      other faiths may perform ceremonies "within the limits of the provisions of
      law."

      The draft, while not specifying gender, outlaws "any kind of
      discrimination."

      Politically, the constitution envisions a strong president and two houses of
      Congress (Burt Herman, Associated Press/Yahoo! News, Nov.3 ). The president
      nominates half of the upper house of parliament, or the "Meshrano Jirga"
      (House of Elders). The lower chamber will be called the "Wolesi Jirga"
      (House of People).

      The president will also have the power to appoint and dissolve the Cabinet,
      subject to "consultation with the Parliament" (Sayed Salahuddin,
      Reuters/Washington Post, Nov. 3).

      The post of prime minister was dropped in last-minute changes last week,
      according to the London Guardian, out of fear that a prime minister could
      emerge as a political rival to the president, even if appointed by the
      president.

      The British daily notes that the constitution bears evidence of other
      decisions made with a wary eye on the country's history of divisiveness and
      ethnic tension: if the president dies in office, the vice-president will not
      serve out the president's term but will only serve as acting head of state
      until elections are held, within three months' time. A senior Afghan
      official said such a provision "takes account of Afghan history and is meant
      to reduce the risk of assassination or palace coup."

      The draft, originally due out Sept. 1, was delayed repeatedly by wangling
      over various points (London Guardian). The 35-member Constitutional Review
      Commission that created it started work a year ago. After accusations of
      secrecy, the commission sent out 460,000 questionnaires to citizens and held
      public meetings in villages to solicit input (Herman, AP/Yahoo! News). The
      London Guardian reports that one in five questionnaires was returned (London
      Guardian). Many Western diplomats and aid workers said the constitution did
      not take ordinary Afghans' views enough into consideration (Salahuddin,
      Reuters/Washington Post).

      Next month the constitutional loya jirga, or grand assembly, will convene to
      discuss the draft constitution, alter it - perhaps radically - and approve a
      final version, paving the way to elections in June 2004. The 500 delegates
      are being selected at local meetings amid reports of intimidation (London
      Guardian).

      Citing insecurity throughout Afghanistan and Afghans' unfamiliarity with
      democratic institutions, a CIA report made public in recent days warned that
      the country may not be able to hold elections next summer as planned. The
      report, submitted to the Congressional intelligence oversight committee in
      August, was accompanied by an analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency
      estimating it would take 10-15 years for Afghanistan to become a democratic
      and economically viable state (Spiegel/Burnett, Financial Times, Nov. 2).

      Security Council Delegation Reviewing Security

      A delegation of U.N. ambassadors, including those from the United States,
      the United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Spain, Germany and Bulgaria, arrived
      yesterday in Kabul to assess security in Afghanistan and show support for
      Karzai's government.

      Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, is heading the delegation and
      said that during stops to provincial centers its members would urge full
      cooperation by warlords with the central government to ensure elections
      proceed on schedule.

      Yesterday the ambassadors met with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah
      Abdullah, who briefed them on security, and with Karzai (Herman, AP/Yahoo!
      News, Nov. 2).

      "The most important purpose of their visit is the symbolic one, which is to
      express or reiterate the commitment of the international community to the
      reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization of Afghanistan," said Karzai's
      spokesman Jawed Luddin (Agence France-Presse, Nov. 3).

      Today in the western city of Herat, the ambassadors called for the full
      participation of women in public life. "You can build a sustained peaceful
      and successful society only if you include women," Pleuger told a news
      conference."

      Human rights groups have accused Governor Ismail Khan of denying women equal
      rights in Herat. The delegation was scheduled to meet with him, but he was
      in Geneva today, so they met instead with his deputy, Haji Mir Abdul Khaleq
      (Amir Shah, AP, Nov. 3).

      Later in the week they will visit Mazar-e Sharif. Because of security
      concerns, a visit to Kandahar was scrapped (Herman, AP/Yahoo! News, Nov. 2).

      On Friday the head of the U.N. committee overseeing sanctions against
      al-Qaeda and the Taliban warned that Afghanistan is at a "critical juncture"
      and faces "enormous challenges and threats." Chile's ambassador Heraldo
      Munoz, just back from a tour of the Middle East and Asia, said Afghanistan
      was still threatened by terrorists, factional fighting and a powerful new
      alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers (U.N. release, Oct. 31).

      Taliban insurgents who kidnapped a Turkish engineer Thursday to bargain for
      the release of 18 Taliban prisoners appear to have retreated from their
      threat to execute the hostage, AP reports (Herman, APII/Yahoo! News, Nov.
      3). In other news of insecurity, a battle between Afghan soldiers and Afghan
      police, both loyal to Karzai's government, erupted Friday in an area about
      90 miles west of Kandahar, killing as many as 10 (Noor Khan, AP/Yahoo! News,
      Nov. 1). Other reports put the number of dead at 40 (Agence
      France-Presse/Yahoo! News, Nov. 2).

      Security Guard Tells How He Concealed Golden Hoard From Taliban

      An Afghan security guard told the London Telegraph that he saved
      Afghanistan's 2,100-year-old Bactrian treasure - the biggest hoard of gold
      ever discovered - from the Taliban by refusing to reveal the whereabouts of
      the lion's share of the treasure despite torture and imprisonment.

      Askerzai, as the 50-year-old security guard at Afghanistan's central bank is
      known, said the most precious part of the treasure was in a vault in the
      presidential palace. In 1996 the Taliban found part of it - a cache of gold
      bars. Askerzai said he was imprisoned for three months but refused to
      divulge information about the rest of the hoard.

      Askerzai told the Telegraph that after his release, he broke off the key in
      the lock to the vault where the gold bars were stored, to the frustration of
      Taliban members attempting to abscond with the bullion on their last night
      in power, in 2001.

      The Golden Hoard of Bactria, as northern Afghanistan was known during
      Alexander the Great's time, was unearthed in 1978 and consisted of 20,000
      coins, medallions, necklaces and more (Hamida Ghafour, London Telegraph,
      Nov. 3).
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