January 7, 2004
AFGHANISTAN'S NEW CONSTITUTION: 'A STEP FORWARD'
** The Afghan constitution
marks a "new era" for the war-torn country.
** While some issues remain
unsettled, the agreement paves the way for free elections.
** The "bumpy"
road ahead means "foreign aid and troops" will still be needed for a
'Foundation for a new Afghanistan'-- Commentators called the adoption of a new
constitution for Afghanistan a "milestone" that marked a
"symbolic end" to the country's sad past while providing "a new
opportunity" in the country's reconstruction. Writers praised the Loya Jirga
representatives for tackling the "most complicated" job of combining
"archaic tribal rules, Islamic values and Western ideas of
left-of-center Sueddeutsche Zeitung termed the event "the birth of
a new Afghanistan and a reason to celebrate" after 25 "chaotic,
war-like, bloody years." A
conservative Canadian broadsheet praised the "patient negotiation and
compromise" that "gave us all a lesson in 'big-tent' politics at its
best." Afghanistan's Dari-language Mojahed,
however, complained about "bullies" imposing their views on the Loya
Jirga representatives and "scandalous" censorship of committee
An 'imprecise' but 'workable' document-- Editorialists agreed that the constitution is
not "a perfect document," leaving some "language and minority
issues" unaddressed; one European observer termed it "fragile." The foreign editor of Britain's conservative Times,
though conceding many of the compromises made in its writing were
"sensible," identified "serious weaknesses," including
insufficient protection for the "rights" it recognizes. Such shortcomings could lead to the
constitution's being ignored or "bent out of recognition." A liberal Pakistani outlet admitted that the
constitution "is unlikely to change the hue of forces" in the land,
but termed it a "necessary...condition to move Afghanistan
forward." Some Western dailies
worried about the "problematic" article providing that laws should
not conflict with Islam; Canada's liberal Le Devoir went as far as
branding the new Afghan state "a theocracy."
'A return to chaos is still possible'-- Observers agreed that despite the
constitutional "leap of faith," the future of the nation is
"still uncertain." Further
"setbacks" caused by warlords along with "the growing activities
of the ousted Taliban and al-Qaida in the southeast" remained problems
that should "not be underestimated."
There is much "uphill work" to be done on the way to
elections, according to the UAE's English-language Gulf News, and
"getting the message of democracy across will not be easy." Other papers judged that success for the
"charismatic" President Karzai "will ride in part on his ability
to project authority and the rule of law beyond the capital Kabul." In addition to "the Afghans
themselves," further stabilization will depend on the efforts of the
international community and in particular the U.S., which "has a great
responsibility...to rebuild that country on a democratic basis."
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
EDITOR'S NOTE: This
analysis is based on 31 reports from 17 countries, January 3-7, 2004. Editorial excerpts from each country are
listed from the most recent date.
Spirit of Compromise Fails Four Tests of Strength"
Foreign Editor Bronwen Maddox commented in the conservative Times
(Internet version, 1/7): "The bomb
in Kandahar yesterday shows why the new constitution of Afghanistan, hailed
with such fanfare on Sunday, will not easily glue the country together.... It is moving to see a country try to write
down the principles by which it wants to run itself. Indeed, it was an achievement to have
produced any agreement at all from the 502 delegates cooped up for three weeks
in vast tents in Kabul.... On the whole,
the compromises that were made were sensible and many of the deals struck in
the final days improved the document enormously, but it is not churlish to say
that the constitution has at least four serious weaknesses, which could still
lead it to be jettisoned, ignored or bent out of recognition--the fate of the
past nine constitutions. First,
President Karzai has done so well by the deal, as has his sponsor, the United
States, that it has inflamed ethnic divisions.
Second, there has been little attempt to spell out the relationship
between Kabul and the provinces. Third,
the Supreme Court, heavily influenced by religious hardliners, will interpret
the constitution. Fourth, the
much-lauded 'rights' can be overridden by laws.... Those are the theoretical problems. There are practical ones, security above
all. Warlords are still unchecked and an
estimated 100,000 fighters roam the country.
It is hard to see how credible elections can be held by the target of
"Constituting A State"
The independent Financial Times editorialized (1/6): "It is a minor triumph that Afghans have
reached agreement in their traditional loya jirga, or grand assembly, on a
constitution for a presidential form of government in an Islamic republic--but
one with equal rights for women.... The
prospect of free and fair presidential elections being held as planned this
June--with parliamentary elections following within a year--look rather
dim. Clearly, Afghanistan will continue
to need foreign aid and troops. By contrast,
Iraq still lacks the crucial advantage of legitimacy that Afghanistan has
had.... The U.S. is due to hand over
civil power to a transitional government this summer but Washington and Iraqi
leaders have still not agreed how this body should emerge. Even then, Iraqis will still have before them
the sort of constitutional decisions the Afghans have just settled."
Manfred Pantfoerder wrote in center-right Die Welt
(1/5): "The contract of Kabul is a
milestone toward the new Afghanistan that was envisaged at the Petersberg
conference in December 2001. It also
ennobles the continuing engagement of the west, two years after the ousting of
the Taliban regime. If the military
action were to turn into permanent peace, Afghanistan would be a fortunate
case. The Afghans have made a great
contribution. They made the most
complicated attempt to combine archaic tribal rules, Islamic values and western
ideas of democracy in a new constitution.
Here, the implementation of essential issues, like equal rights for
women, is of great importance. If the
Afghans keep going, they could reckon with a peace dividend. Aid money and military backing by ISAF is
ready, which will be a condition for a successful transformation of the Afghan
civil war community in the years to come.
Further setbacks caused by warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar can be
expected, and the growing activities of the ousted Taliban and al-Qaida in the
southeast of the country remain a problem that should not be
underestimated. We have got the
breakthrough of Kabul, but it has to be secured."
"Birth Of A New Afghanistan"
Peter Muench observed in the center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung
(1/5): "This is the birth of a new
Afghanistan and a reason to celebrate.
After 25 chaotic, war-like, bloody years, a new opportunity has opened
up for Afghanistan. Whether it will take
it is not only dependent on foreign support, but particularly on Afghans
themselves. There will only be a better
future if they can put the past to rest....
Hamid Karzai has succeeded in his call for a strong position of the
president, a copy of the American system.
That is good for the country; mainly because the charismatic Karzai is
good for the country. As a strong
president the ethnic Pashtun could reconcile the skeptic Pashtu majority with
the state. He could extend the power of
a central government to the provinces to prevent the disruption of the
country. He could set up a powerful
national army, fight drug growing, and distribute billions of international aid
fairly. He could do that if they let
him. But a strong president is a horror
particularly for the leaders of the Tajik northern alliance, who have been
dominating Kabul ever since they assisted U.S. troops in the war against the
Taliban. They tried to limit the power
of the president with all means in the constitutional assembly. What they did not achieve on paper, they will
try in practice. Fighting will continue
after the accord of the Loya Jirga. The
approval of the constitution is a milestone....
But the way remains bumpy and a return to chaos is still possible. One should not expect more than what was
achieved. The next milestone will be set
with the election of the president this summer."
"A State But Not Yet A Nation"
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine judged (1/5): "Afghanistan is a state. Whether it can become a nation has to be
seen. But the delegates of the Loya
Jirga took a great step in that direction on Sunday. Until the last moment, one could see how
difficult agreement was for them.
Failure was likely on Saturday.
But the representatives of the United Nations and those of the United
States, who both had great interest in an agreement, finally succeeded in
'convincing' those who were resisting.
But exactly this is the weak spot of the agreement. After the approval the delegates will return
to their regions, where they will be under different influence. And there is no guarantee that everybody who
was ready to find a compromise in Kabul will have the stamina to stand by the
vote.... The acid test comes when the
head of state, Karzai, has to push through his new written rights against
individual interests. For the time
being, a Pashtun has more problems with the idea of turning down his ethnic
origin for an abstract 'Afghanism'. The
same is true for the other ethnic groups of the country. Afghanistan will only have reached its goal
when ethnic differences are taken to the podium and are not fought out in
"Now The Spotlight Is On Karzai"
Elke Windisch remarked in centrist Der Tagesspiegel
(1/5): "This agreement is fragile,
like the power of the not democratically legitimated interim government, whose
power ends at the borders of Kabul. Many
sections of the constitution are not precise and free for interpretation in
order not to endanger the delicate national reconciliation. Afghanistan is defined as an Islamic
Republic, whose laws should not clash with the Koran and Sharia. In reality this can be problematic not only
concerning the equality of women, for which the 100 female delegates of the
Loya Jirga fought like lions. That is
one of the points where the new constitution falls short compared to the one of
the 1964 constitutional monarchy. But an
insufficient constitution is better than no constitution. This is especially true for Afghanistan
where, after 30 years of war against a Soviet occupier and civil war, an entire
generation grew up that only knows the rule of force and how to push through
its claims with the help of Kalashnikovs.
Above all, it paves the way for democratic elections that will give Afghanistan
its first legitimate government in 30 years."
ITALY: "'In The Name
Of Allah' A Constitution That Erases The Taliban"
Mimmo Candito held in centrist, influential daily La Stampa
(1/5): "Yesterday a new Afghanistan
was born.... The adoption of the
constitution that yesterday erased the past 'in the name of Allah' is a
political event which is destined to open the road to institutional and
cultural changes that will inevitably affect the future history of this
country.... If we recall what Afghanistan
has been in all these centuries, with religion and ethnicity becoming absolute
fanaticisms, the bet on a democracy is venturesome. But the Americans are in Afghanistan today,
and they don't intend to take away their presence, because Afghanistan is too
important for their control of the pipelines and of China's competitive
threat.... Yesterday in Kabul a model
was defined, maybe unrealistic, but certainly workable; and now there will be
the attempt to export this model to the Baghdad quagmire."
Anti-Terror Medication Worked For Afghanistan"
Foreign affairs editor Günter Lehofer opined in mass-circulation
provincial daily Kleine Zeitung (1/7):
“Afghanistan was the first big step in the global fight against
terrorism. The country was ruled by
Usama bin Laden and a Mullah named Omar, who has meanwhile sunk into
oblivion. Despite all the risks,
Afghanistan and its tortured people merited a large-scale effort by the rest of
the world. We only need to think of the
violence, the hunger, and the oppression of women under the Taliban regime to
realize that, despite all the difficulties, massive progress for the people has
been achieved in the Afghanistan of 2004.
In Afghanistan, the positive results of the anti-terror drug by far
override its side effects.”
Afghanistan A Success Story For The Bush Administration?"
Center-left daily Sega commented (1/4): "Washington praised as a great success
the adoption of Afghanistan's new constitution as a balancing act between Islam
and democracy. However, enforcing this
constitution will be a far more difficult task than its adoption.... To a large extent Afghanistan's success is
now in NATO's hands. The Alliance must
speed up the deployment of peacekeeping forces outside the capital in order to
allow the humanitarian organizations to resume their work there. The peacekeeping forces deployment will also
put an end to the armed clashes and will guarantee peaceful elections. NATO should also realize that it is in
Afghanistan for the long haul."
"Constitution--Beginning Of Afghanistan"
Milan Slezak observed in the leading business Hospodarske
noviny (1/6): "The new
constitution passed in Afghanistan on Sunday can be seen as a symbolic end of
an unhappy period and a promise for the future.
It is important that representatives of various ethnic and religious
groups, which till now fought against each other, have been able to agree on a
document that certifies that Afghanistan will be an Islamic republic and that
none of its laws may be in contradiction to Islam. Most importantly, there is no mention of
Sharia, the strict Islamic Law, and men
and women have the same rights and obligations.... In the battles over the constitution, it was
clear that overcoming the age-old discords between different nationalities is
no easy matter. The Sunday success was
facilitated mainly by the pressure
exerted by the U.S. and UN. It would
certainly have been better if such a strong drive to reach an agreement had
been exhibited by the Afghanis themselves....
Nevertheless, the constitution is a step in the right direction;
welcome, but not salvageable in itself."
"Constitution And Kalashnikovs"
Petra Prochazkova opined in the center-right daily Lidove
noviny (1/5): "The Western-type
constitution, which eighty percent of Afghanis, including many delegates of
Loya Jirga, cannot read because of their illiteracy, will only have a limited
practical impact. More important than
the constitution's content is that the Americans and Afghani leader Hamid
Karzai managed to push it through in spite of powerful [mujahedin] enemies.... However, even the strong president must not
forget that several million Afghanis continue to carry weapons. And not only carry them."
Influential moderate left daily Público editor-in-chief
José Manuel Fernandes noted (1/7):
"The evolution [exemplified in the loya jirga] was
gigantic.... For the first time in the
history of the country the government listened to the people and considered the
proposed alterations to the project it was presenting."
SPAIN: "Democracy Step
Conservative ABC remarked (1/6): "The new Afghan constitution is
important not only for its content...but also because it closes a transitory
period riddled with questions about the future coexistence of the main ethnic
groups of the country.... The
Constitution is also important...because it serves as an example in other cases
of national reconstruction, including Iraq after Saddam. First, it shows how national...teams,
supported by the international community, can carry out the task of providing
themselves with a new institutional framework.
Secondly, it proves that the task requires time.... Democracy can not be quick or hasty."
Jeddah's English-language daily Arab News said (1/7): "Now that the constitution is in place,
it is crucial that the international community deliver on those brave promises
of aid and funds that flowed after the Bonn talks three years ago. There are of course severe security problems
in Afghanistan, but they are nothing compared to those faced by the occupation
forces in Iraq. Yet the campaign to
rebuild Iraq is in full swing. Why is
the same thing not happening in Afghanistan?
Why are development funds not pouring into the country? Why are poor Afghan farmers returning to
their traditional opium growing when they should be receiving help to grow and
market proper crops? The world must not
turn its back on the Afghans now that the Taliban and al-Qaida have gone. The success of the Loya Jirga must be
reinforced by substantial international support, to allow these promising but
delicate seeds of peace and stability to grow."
"The Constitution in Afghanistan"
Jeddah's conservative Al-Madina wrote (1/6): "There is no doubt that announcing the
re-birth of the constitution in Afghanistan would give President Bush a
positive push in his re-election campaign.
Especially when opinion polls have passed the 50% mark in his favor,
with this announcement the percentage is expected to go up. However, keeping reconstruction efforts in
Afghanistan within the specified timeline remains a heavy burden on the
shoulders of the United States of America.
The U.S. has a great responsibility and a greater commitment to rebuild
that country on a democratic basis. For
only this will make going back to the past impossible."
"And Now The Hard Part"
Jeddah's English-language daily Arab News commented
(1/6): "Hopefully, Afghans have
learned a thing or two about cooperation, tolerance, patience and compromise
from the last 30 miserable years. Nobody
gets everything they want. But everybody
gets something. That's what
self-government is all about. It's hard
work, but it is the only way we know of to real peace and prosperity."
UAE: "The Talk Is
Over, The Work Begins"
The English-language expatriate-oriented Gulf News
editorialized (Internet version, 1/6):
"Afghanistan now has its first post-Taliban constitution and
congratulations are pouring in to President Hamid Karzai. The Loya Jirga...took more than twice as long
as expected. But historically, a Loya
Jirga does not disband until a consensus is achieved. And that was eventually obtained after 22
days of sometimes acrimonious discussion and much bitter ethnic
rivalry.... Now that the constitution is
'out of the way' the path can be cleared for democratic elections later in the
year. There is much uphill work to be
done in this direction, since it is apparent that many Afghanis do not fully
understand the concept of democratic elections.
Equally, Afghans are known to quickly change allegiance for their
advantage. With warlords and ethnic
tribes forcefully contesting each other in the provinces, getting the message
of democracy across will not be easy.
However, first there must be some semblance of law and order throughout
the country, with less internecine strife and a dramatic reduction in the
expanding production of opium, something that the Taliban were able to
reduce. But until then, nations that
promised aid and grants to re-establish Afghanistan will be reluctant to come
forward with vast sums of money, which could rapidly disappear through
corruption. The western nations, especially America, are honor-bound to carry
on with the work in assisting Afghanistan to recover. Their record for staying the course in
Afghanistan has not been good. "
The Dubai-based English-language Khaleej Times remarked
(Internet version, 1/6): "If
Afghans succeeded in charting a constitution for their country after
painstaking efforts, then those who devoted themselves to the task now need to
show rationalism and wisdom and avoid fanaticism to have it properly
implemented. After the final approval of
the constitution, a call will be made for holding the first democratic
elections in the country. Subsequently
the first elected government since the overthrow of the Taliban regime will be
formed. For sure the success of the next
steps require the Afghans to stand up against warmongers, whose interests are
inherent in the continuation of fighting and ethnic clashes throughout the
country. If the tribal council (loya
jirga) has succeeded in its first assignment, it should exert big efforts
thereafter. According to the
constitution document, a presidential system in the country was approved, which
means wiping out the idea of the return of monarchy. The document also approved the appointment of
two vice-presidents. This will provide
the opportunity to a large number of representatives of ethnic groups to assume
important posts in the country. Two
official languages have been approved for the country, which are Dari and
Pushtu. Languages of other minorities
will be considered in the areas where they are spoken. This is seen as a solution both satisfactory
and acceptable to the different parties concerned."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
JAPAN: "New Afghan
The top-circulation, moderate-conservative Yomiuri
editorialized (1/6): "The adoption
of a new, post-Taliban constitution by the Loya Jirga (Grand Council) has
marked a new era for the war-torn country's transition toward national unity
and reconstruction. The new constitution
will also open the way for holding presidential and parliamentary elections led
by a powerful U.S.-type president, which are a necessary political procedure
for the inauguration of a full-fledged government in Afghanistan. The world community needs to continue
additional assistance in promoting Afghanistan's political and economic
"Foundation Laid For Afghan Reconstruction"
The liberal Asahi observed (1/6): "We are hopeful that under the new
constitution, ethnically diverse Afghan forces will join hands to steer their
nation toward national unity and reconstruction. Noteworthy is the strong authority that
President Karzai will have to appoint cabinet ministers and command armed
forces. Although Afghanistan's adoption
of the constitution has opened the way for national reconstruction, the future
of this war-torn nation is still uncertain.
U.S. troops continue mopping-up operations against Taliban and al-Qaida
remnants in the southeastern countryside, while the Karzai leadership relies on
international peacekeepers to maintain security in and around Kabul. Afghan warlords continue to rule much of the
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
"Bullying Is Not Impartiality"
Kabul's Dari-language Mojahed commented
(1/4): "Followers of the
democracy-based systems claim that democratic rule should be impartial in order
to guarantee free press and expression of views.... This is not how the bullies see it. During the Loya Jirga session, we witnessed
that the bullies were trying to impose their views on the representatives. The representatives had to opt for silence or
to comply with the decisions already made for them. We all know where all these decisions were
made. To refresh the minds, the New York
Times newspaper...reported that the United States was in favor of a
presidential system...in order to strengthen Mr. Karzai's positions against his
opponents. When the government's open
interference in the Loya Jirga affairs peaked, Karzai, in a news conference,
announced that only the presidential system would remedy all of the pains of
the nation and he therefore was in favor of it and will not succumb to any
compromise.... Karzai expressed his
views with anger and threatening language....
Censorship applied on the views expressed in the committees during the
Loya Jirga sessions were so open and scandalous that it even forced the Loya
Jirga leadership to confess to such a reality.... The authorities who in the past two years
complained that the rule-of-gun had barred normal political life in the
country, have themselves opted for similar rule now.... Democratic rule can only be attributed to the
government or any other institution if it refrains from resorting to force in
order to restrict the social and political atmosphere, avoid causing divisions
among the people, under various titles, and avoid resorting to illegitimate
measures.... Otherwise, domination of
the bullies will not leave much room for democracy to be experimented
here. It is strange that the
institutions who observe democracy and human rights here prefer to remain as
the silent observers of this scenario."
The nationalist Hindustan Times editorialized (1/3): "Afghanistan's loya jirga...was meant to
unlock the doors to democracy.... While
the key issues continue to be debated, it appears a final constitutional
document that emerges would have a better chance as a blueprint for the future
if it was informed by consensus rather than be pushed through with the means of
a vote in the grand assembly which has a Pushtun majority. The consensus method may allow for greater
political and social negotiations among the various ethnic groups."
"Afghanistan's Constitution Is A Good Beginning"
Lahore-based liberal English Daily Times
editorialized (1/6): "While the
Jirga may have sapped the energies of all concerned, it is but a small step
towards the rebuilding of Afghanistan....
The constitution itself is unlikely to change the hue of forces in
Afghanistan. But it was a necessary,
though not sufficient, condition to move Afghanistan forward. That's where its significance lies."
"Passage Of The Afghan Constitution"
The Lahore-based populist Urdu daily Khabrain
remarked (1/6): "Agreement on the
draft constitution of our neighboring country Afghanistan--a country beset by
external attacks and civil strife for the last two decades--is indeed a
positive development. This would not
only provide stability to Afghanistan, but would help improve its relations
with the neighboring states."
The centrist national English daily, The News observed
(1/6): "Sadly, democracy does not
provide instant linctuses to such crises.
It functions with its slow plodding movement to gradually work out a
solution rather than produce quick answers that are needed. But, then a powerful presidency is even worse
placed. It will be unfortunate if
Pakistan's dismal experience of the sixties with the concept of a strong center
and strong president is repeated in Afghanistan."
"New Afghan Constitution"
An editorial in the Karachi-based center-left
independent national English daily, Dawn took this view (1/6): "A constitution is a sacred document and
reflects the desire of a nation to charter its destiny within the framework of
the Basic Law. One hopes the elections
due later this year will be held peacefully and the Afghans will be able to
work the new constitution successfully and leave the era of war and fratricide
"New Beginning For Afghanistan"
The government-owned English-language Daily News commented
(1/6): "Afghanistan's Grand
Assembly on Sunday adopted the country's first post-Taliban constitution with
the majority of the 502 delegates approving a presidential system for the
Islamic republic. The region, and indeed
the world, welcomes this development in the earnest hope that democracy and
stability would return to Afghanistan, which lost all democratic institutions
and structures during the harsh Taliban rule.... The constitution aims for a clear break from
the Taliban era, with religious freedom, free education for both boys and girls
and government-sponsored health care.
Women will have equal rights, including the right to work, which the
Talibans denied. It does not appear to
be a perfect document--some language and minority issues have not been
resolved--but a start has been made....
Worryingly, sporadic terrorist attacks still take place in
Afghanistan. The new constitution will
hopefully unify all Afghans under one banner to counter such threats to
democracy and enable Afghans to govern themselves without any outside
CANADA: "Afghan Leap
The liberal Toronto Star editorialized (Internet version,
1/6): "In Afghanistan, nothing is
easy. The Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly,
convened to draft a constitution for the war-weary country soon became a Loya
Jagr, or Grand Slugfest, as fierce ethnic and religious disputes erupted during
its deliberations. But the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan has made its leap of faith, and President Hamid
Karzai--who hails from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group--can now begin to sell
the deal to 27 million fellow citizens.
Karzai's success will ride in part on his ability to project authority
and the rule of law beyond the capital Kabul.
He must suppress a terror campaign by Taliban diehards and disarm ethnic
warlords and drug barons who rule the countryside. He deserves Canada's political, military and
economic support. Foreign donors have
pledged barely a third of the $5 billion a year he needs to get a central
government and army up and running. Yet
no one will benefit if the place slides back into the anarchy that let the
Taliban seize power and befriend al-Qaida terrorists. Afghanistan's new basic law provides for a
strong presidency, and for presidential elections in June for the first time in
25 years. It also protects minority
rights and the rule of law. These are
welcome changes in an ethnically splintered land where warlords have held sway
for ages. While Karzai got the strong
presidential powers he sought, parliament can veto his ministerial candidates,
impeach them and has a say in 'fundamental policies' and fiscal matters. This is a check on autocracy. Pashto and Dari become the official 'national
languages,' reflecting the large Pashtun and Tajik ethnic minorities. But the Uzbek, Turkmen and Nuristani
languages will be recognized where people speak them, easing tensions. And for the first time women have equal
rights, including a quarter of the seats in the elected lower house. All this invites Afghans to pull together,
after futile decades of pulling apart.
And it invites us to help."
"Afghans' 'Big Tent' Produces
The conservative Montreal Gazette
commented (1/6): "That a bitter
dispute over minority language rights almost derailed Afghanistan's attempt to
write itself a constitution is something that will probably resonate with most
Canadians. That patient negotiation and
compromise ultimately triumphed, however, should resonate even more. Against all odds, this dusty, divided and
war-scarred nation has taken an important step toward political stability and democracy,
after 30 years of civil strife and warlordism.... In the end, the delegates' display of
compromise and concession gave us all a lesson in ''big-tent' politics at its
best. The meeting finessed the ticklish
squabble over language rights... skated neatly around the religious issue by declaring
Afghanistan would, indeed, have a civil law but that none of its measures would
contradict the Koran...[and] addressed the grievances of such traditionally
oppressed communities as the Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen--and even settled some
of them. That's not to say the
constitution is without flaws. Women,
unfortunately, still have a long way to go before they get back even the status
they enjoyed before the rise of the warlords and the triumph of the Taliban. But they have regained some ground.... Not perfect by any means, but if the
constitution gives Afghans a stable, democratic government, there will be
plenty of time to make improvements. At
the end of the day, however, a constitution isn't worth the paper it's written
on if there's no political will to enforce it, or worse, if it's just a bit of
fancy window dressing to impress outsiders.
But there are reasons to be optimistic about this effort. To begin with, it does seem to be the product
of serious, good-faith negotiations among a wide cross section of Afghans. And then interim president Hamid Karzai has
shown himself to be a flexible leader with a strong commitment to
constitutional rule. Still, Afghanistan will
need help from abroad to develop viable democratic institutions, and Canada
should be ready to do its part. After
all, we have some experience in accommodating a multi-cultural society. And in the end, helping the Afghans would be
a good investment. A stable, democratic
Afghanistan is in everyone's interest."
"The Afghan Farce"
Editorialist Serge Truffaut wrote in the liberal Le Devoir
(1/6): "Despite being kicked out
only two years ago, the Taliban...were able to mold the first three articles of
this Constitution conceived in chaos around the Koran. Just like Iran, Afghanistan will be a
theocracy.... [Article Three] says that
'in Afghanistan no law can go against the beliefs and the regulations of the
sacred religion of Islam.' Thanks to
this article, militants with a strict interpretation of the Koran will have
total latitude to conform new laws with the Sharia. Worst of all, this [constitutional] exercise
was conducted under the aegis of the United Nations and more precisely of
Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy chosen by Kofi Annan.... This means the UN supports the burqua and all
its consequences. The Pashtuns have
retaken many of the powers they had lost following the U.S. army-led offensive
of December 2001. This return has been
harshly criticized by all the ethnic groups that formed the Northern
Alliance. The Tadjiks, Uzbeks and others
have promised in barely veiled words that they would never allow the Pashtuns,
Hamid Karzai's group, to spread their tentacles. In short, confrontations are to be expected. The history which began with the overthrow of
the Taliban ended with a farce."
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (1/7): "The two terrorist attacks in Kandahar
yesterday are a gloomy demonstration of the challenges that still remain in
Afghanistan. Before Afghanistan becomes
the democracy some have hastily depicted, it will have to resolve the profound
divisions that make the central administration little more than a political
fiction. The problem is not only the
Taliban.... The disagreements are at the
very core of the President Hamid Karzai's government.... Despite the difficulties, it would be unfair
not to recognize the new constitution as an advance.... The contrast is very strong when one considers
the situation under the Taliban regime....
But there is a long way to go until what is on paper is put into
practice, if such will truly be possible some day."