Afghan Constitution Wins National Unity

Dawn, Karachi,,
January 09, 2004

By Danish Karokhel,

KABUL: Even though some groups are unhappy with Afghanistan's new constitution, most of their demands have been born in mind. Afghan analysts consider this as a developed constitution for this part of Asia, in which Islam, democracy, and human rights all have a place.

In the final days of the Loya Jirga, delegates antagonized each other over language and ethnicity. National interest was in danger. Afghans were worried. But in the end, despite complaints and criticism, the Loya Jirga succeeded in approving the constitution.

Delegates gave up their individual demands for the greater interest of the country, and for national unity. They proved their good intentions. Sharifa Safi, a delegate of Kunar, said that Pashtun delegates, who had a slim majority of votes, gave up their rights and accepted the constitution for the benefit of national unity.

"Pashtuns accepted that sacrifice, and gave up Pashtu as a national language," she said. But, she added, "this sacrifice should be recorded in history."

Siddiqullah Patman, a member of the Constitution Commission, considers the success of the constitution a sacrifice for Pashtuns. "Pashtuns proved that they want a government for the people. They gave up their right over language, and made a sacrifice."

He said that Pashtuns, who were called "Al Qaeda and terrorists by the world", proved in the Loya Jirga that they accepted voting and compromise.Patman considers the new constitution as an advanced one for the region. Compared with Iran, he said, "Afghanistan's new constitution is better, because in Iran - in addition to president and parliament - there is a religious council over them, and everything is passed through it."

But Afghanistan does not have such a council in the new constitution. According to Patman, the new constitution will improve the lives of ordinary people, because their basic rights have been kept in mind.

The minorities have been given more rights by formalizing their languages. Six minority languages, in addition to Dari and Pashto, are recognized as official languages in the areas of the country where their speakers are a majority.

"Nobody's civil rights have been taken away," said Patman. Abul Ahrar Ramizpur, a professor of Sharia law at Kabul University and deputy chair of a human rights activist group, said "we haven't had such a constitution in the last 25 years, during which we lived in lawlessness. And now, they have named human rights in the constitution, which gives hope to the people."

Ramizpur emphasizes that, in the constitution, it is the duty of the government to respect human rights. He considers this constitution better than Iran's, in that "every article in Iran's constitution is slanted towards Islam and the Sharia."

"Changing a war-torn society needs time," said Ramizpur. "The new constitution is the first step to healing society." Many Afghans consider this constitution as the first step for creating a democracy with Islamic values.

However, many are pondering how it can be carried out. Engineer Osman Tariq, a delegate from Logar province, thinks that the new constitution has the potential to bring great changes.

"People are sick of lawlessness. The law of the jungle has ruled," he said. "But if the constitution is followed, everyone will be satisfied," he added.

Habibullah Rafi, head of Kilid publications and author of numerous books about Loya Jirgas and constitutions in Afghanistan, considers the new constitution a combination of Islam, democracy and human rights. "The new constitution is written according to the conditions of society." But he criticized the procedure of passing the final constitution. He says it should have been approved by a formal vote.

Some people harmed the voting process during the Loya Jirga, he said, "which was at odds with democracy." Rafi claims that in no parliaments of the world are decisions made by compromise without also putting them to a vote.

"The constitution was not passed by voting, so it does not have the complete confirmation of delegates," he concluded. But Hafiz Mansoor, the chief editor of Payam Mujahed newspaper and a delegate from Kabul, said, "The prominent point of this Constitutional Loya Jirga was that the delegates of the people had the right to talk and argue about the government. It was not like the previous Loya Jirga, which concluded with the 'yes' of accepting the government."

He cited as strong points that the president is responsible to the parliament, that parliament has approval over ministers and national policy, that minority languages are accepted as third formal languages in some regions, and that Shias got recognition.

However, he felt weak points in the constitution include the lack of an interim parliament, the inclusion of a market economy, that the national anthem is only in Pashtu instead of a mix of all languages, and that the independent commission to implement the constitution will be appointed by the president (not approved by parliament). He also said he thought that since privileges were given to Zahir Shah as Father of the Nation, jihadi leaders should also have been given privileges.

The Loya Jirga lasted much longer than the government expected - 22 days, when many thought it would be only a week - which made the assembly better, he said.

"The nation is not ready to accept every article without discussing it," he said. "This Loya Jirga will mark a divide between our past and our future."

Dawn/IWPR News Service

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2004

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