Afghan Constitution Emerges At Last (more)
- 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
The draft, while not specifying gender, outlaws "any kind of
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
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,
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
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
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
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,