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Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
Includes an essay by Tamim Ansary and op-eds from the Afghan press.
Jan 15 2004 TomPaine.com Steps To Statehood Tamim Ansary is author of West of Kabul, East of New York, a bicultural memoir published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2002. Afghanistan has ratified a new constitution, thus completing the third step in a four-step program toward nationhood launched at Bonn two years ago. Step one was cobbling together an interim post-Taliban government. Step two was getting a traditional Afghan grand tribal assembly to endorse this government. These two steps were closely stage-managed by the United States—as they had to be, otherwise the whole process would have broken down. The third phase was much less controlled, which represents progress. The delegates who met at the Polytechnic Institute in Kabul engaged in real deliberations, real arguments, real horse trading. They made significant changes to the draft constitution brought to the meeting. They produced, finally, a document with many remarkable sentences. The most striking one reads, "The citizens of Afghanistan—whether man or woman—-have equal rights and duties before the law." It's a statement worthy of a great constitution, sidestepping as it does querulous preoccupation with specifics in favor of a broad justification for unlimited social progress over time. There was never any chance that Afghanistan would come out of its twenty-three year ordeal as a secular state. Other planks specify that the term "Afghan" applies to all ethnic groups within the country's border, not just Pushtoons, and that other languages besides Dari and Pushto have some standing. Torture and forced confessions are flatly forbidden—hey, it's good to get that one in writing. Freedom of _expression and the right to counsel are guaranteed. One article states: "Crime is a personal action." In other words, only the person who commits a crime may be punished for it. That may sound like "well-duh" to some, but in fact, it addresses a particular concern in Afghanistan where, in the old days—not just under the Taliban or Soviets, but under the monarchs too—all Afghans were hostage to the good behavior of their relatives. It would indeed be an advance if punishment were limited only to those accused (and even better, those proven guilty). Throughout this whole discussion, however, "if" is the crucial word. For all its merits, this constitution has some big trapdoors. One great imponderable is the role it assigns to Islam. The draft constitution brought to the convention enshrined Islam as the official religion of the country and the final version only strengthens this language. Enshrining Islam Make no mistake—there was never any chance that Afghanistan would come out of its twenty-three year ordeal as a secular state. Anyone who thought otherwise was dreaming. This constitution, however, goes quite far in the other direction; it states that "in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of…Islam." This seems to give Islamic sharia veto power over the constitution. But here's the question that remains in play: who gets to say what the beliefs and provisions of Islam are and whether a law goes contrary to them? Will the conservative religious establishment retain its age-old grip through dogma over the soul of a society? Or will some latitude develop for free-thinking Afghans to develop new interpretations of Islam? It is interesting to note that the idea of allowing new (and personal) interpretations of Islam has been broached in only one Muslim country—and that's Iran. To me this suggests that cultural imperialism will tip the balance in how Islam develops here—because historically, in the past three centuries or so, wherever cultural imperialism has made itself felt in the Muslim world, it has served to hobble progressive intellectuals by associating their ideas with the colonial power, thus strengthening the regressive grip of religious scholars. Perhaps the most serious issue in this constitution is the one that stalled ratification for weeks—the "strong" presidency. "Strong" may be a weak word for the powers conferred on this office. Powerful Presidency Break this constitution down and you find that the president gets the power to make any law, veto any law, and stay in power as long as he deems necessary by invoking "emergency powers." The country's military forces come under his direct control. A Loya Jirga—a grand tribal assembly—can amend the constitution, but only the president has the authority to summon a loya jirga and the constitution can't be amended during an emergency. The elected National Assembly has only the power to say yes to the president, though it can do so quickly or slowly. I asked some of my Afghan friends in the San Francisco Bay Area what they thought of this constitution. They shrugged. "It's good to have a constitution of any kind," one of them said. "It doesn't matter what it says, so long as it gives us ten years of stability." As for the strong presidency, "after the chaos we've been through, we need a strong president to keep order." To me, however, making a president so strong that he can only be removed by coup d'etat is a recipe, finally, not for order, but disorder—which is not say that disorder is inevitable. It all depends on how the constitution is interpreted and applied, especially in its first few years. Everyone assumes interim President Hamid Karzai will win the first election. After that, it's his decision whether to become George Washington or Hafez Asad. Wherever cultural imperialism has made itself felt in the Muslim world, it has hobbled progressive intellectuals by associating their ideas with the colonial power, thus strengthening the regressive grip of religious scholars. Karzai strikes me as a man of good will and I'm sure he has no intention of exploiting the provisions of the constitution to accumulate dictatorial powers. But things happen. The whole point of a constitution is to provide a framework within which a country can work out its structural contradictions peacefully, ease stress points, vent pressures. Note that even the U.S. constitution, often considered the gold-standard, failed to provide mechanisms for ending the institution of slavery peacefully—it took the brutal bloodbath of the civil war. Tradition vs. the Constitution Afghanistan doesn't have slavery to contend with, and some would say it has already endured its civil war, but the country must find its way through difficult changes in the decades ahead: Women must acquire equal access to the public realm and full power over their own lives; Prosperous Afghans returning from the west must work out a relationship with Afghans who remained in the country during the war; Afghans must subordinate their loyalty and identification with particular ethnic groups to loyalty and identification with the nation; The gap between rural masses and urban elite will have to be closed; Afghan society, which has long been so insular, must find ways to accommodate pervasive interaction with Western and other "developed" societies. Does the new constitution provide mechanisms for making these changes peacefully? At what point will the turmoil generated by these issues lead the president to invoke emergency powers? Let's picture that crisis. Sometime in the decades ahead, the state will intervene to prevent a marriage. This will occur in a rural area where marriages have traditionally been arranged by elders of a family. Arranged marriages always involve guarantees and contracts between men of two contracting families, a tradition that inevitably leads to girls being "given in marriage" by their fathers or older male relatives to men they don't want. Sooner or later, the state will have to make a test case of one such marriage on the girl's behalf and against her relatives, if the first contradiction of Afghan society is ever to be resolved. When the state intervenes to prevent such a marriage, the tribal elders will feel that their privacy and honor have been violated. The conflict will open an existing crack between a local "warlord," who functions as patron and protector for these village elders (and depends on their support for his position), and the central government. This will highlight the opposition between the traditional, rural culture and modernizing, urban culture in Afghanistan, and hostility will tend to build up along this fault line. For the tribal villagers, backing down will mean losing face before their kin—unthinkable. For the central government, backing down will involve, among other things, failing a guarantee to the United States, whose military and financial patronage allows it to survive—unthinkable. Suppose that by this time, the Kabul government is dominated by Popalzais, Karzai's Pushtoon tribe, and Mohammedzais, the former king's clan. The conflict will then stress the fracture between tribes or even between ethnic groups. Once these polarities have heated up to the point of violence, another dynamic will come into play—hostility between those who have stayed in the country, fought the Soviets, and suffered in the aftermath of that war, and those who escaped to the West, lived comfortably, went to school, established careers and founded successful businesses. Before any such crisis occurs, rural people must be able to think of the government as their own rather than as an imperialistic "other." It must therefore become representative of the whole country, not just Kabul and the urban, Western-educated elite. Rural people must therefore begin to achieve real power in Kabul at once. People of ethnicities other than Pushtoon must quickly attain positions of authority. It means Pushtoons and non-Pushtoons must clock some history of working together without reference to ethnicity. All of this means the National Assembly must have real power. What's the use of having access to a body if that body itself has no function but advisory? A strong president may keep violence from erupting like a cork in a bottle, but ultimately a society needs mechanisms for venting pressure. I wish Karzai the best, but I hope he'll find a way to step down after his first term, in order to usher in the fifth stage in the four-stage process envisioned at Bonn—real elections stage managed by no one. When that happens, the new constitution will have earned universal applause.
Expectations from Loya Jerga have come to an end Mojahed (in Dari) Kabul, Afghanistan January 5, 2004 "The Loya Jerga was opened with the speech of the chairman on Sunday. With this speech the anxiety of people has ended. In fact, this Loya Jerga had its own peculiarities and was quite different from other Loya Jergas in the political history of Afghanistan. Different from other Loya Jergas, this Loya Jerga was based on the real will of the people. In this Loya Jerga the representatives of people reflected the real wishes of people, which were coming from the bottom of their hearts. Although, at the beginning of the Loya Jerga some actions such as division of representatives into 10 committees and a work plan of the Loya Jerga, were giving this impression that there could be a remote controlling power, which is trying to lead this Loya Jerga in their own interested direction. But, according to this Arabic proverb, winds blow against the ships. The representatives of people were hardened in the kiln of revolutions in the last few decades. They knew all these imaginary things very well and were fully familiar with all these puppet shows. They successfully destroyed the intrigues of those who wish to mislead the Loya Jerga toward their own personal and political benefits. The misuse of power and oppression was replaced by the full understanding with the representatives of people; with this solidarity, the representatives of people, approved that they are able to speak out "No !" against oppressors. The current authorities of Afghanistan should have learned this lesson from the establishment of Constitutional Loya Jerga and its hot discussions that they can not play with the willingness of people any more. Now, the people understand very well who is really working for the people to get their rights and who is just giving out slogans for that. The revealing of fake democratic faces was another product of this Loya Jerga which was not the case with other Loya Jergas. Although expectations from this Loya Jerga have come to an end, but let us see, to which extent all these discussions will be practised in line of people's wishes. We believe that overcoming the current crisis depends on equality amongst the people. The end of the Constitutional Loya Jerga was not the end of all anxieties. The future and the implementation of the constitution will give an answer to all these anxieties."
Constitution has been ratified, government should implement it Erada (in Dari) January 27, 2004 Kabul, Afghanistan The constitution of the country was adopted three weeks ago. When the Loya Jerga was convened, the people of our country heaved a sigh of relief after years of lawlessness, chaos, obstinacy and rule of gun and adopted a constitution after noisy deliberations and rivalries. Now that the constitution, as a national covenant and a means of uniting all strata of the Afghan society, ethnic groups, races and tribal and linguistic groups living in Afghanistan, has been adopted, a delay in recent weeks in signing the constitution, which also delayed its implementation, has given rise to concerns and many comments and rumours. According to news reports, the constitution of the country was signed yesterday by the president of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, Mr Hamed Karzai. It seems like the reason for the delayed signing of the constitution by the head of state was revision of the text of the constitution for clerical and typing errors. The text has now been corrected and is ready to be printed, made available and more importantly implemented. It should be stated here that the draft and review commissions of the constitution should have paid attention to this matter right from the outset, made necessary arrangements and consulted with men of letters of the country to prevent this serious and major shortcoming and thus prevent misunderstanding in the country. In any event, now, after ratifying and signing the constitution, it is of utmost necessity that the government and government officials, particularly the president of the Islamic transitional government, make efforts aimed at implementing and promoting it. In a situation when the poor and oppressed nation of Afghanistan has accomplished one of its long-standing wishes - have a law (constitution) - attention should be paid to the feasible aspects of the law and that the nation is rid of visible violations of the law in the future. This task may not be achievable in a day or night. However, the people expect that specific and necessary steps will be taken to prevent violation of the law before elections are held. These steps should also at least reduce the cruelty which the people suffer from and which threaten their properties. This will restore public confidence in the government and in government administration. Otherwise, the people will regard the law nothing more than a piece of paper, will not rally round the government and will not trust it as the prime source of law enforcement.
The appearance of national unity in the constitution Gawhar (in Dari) pp1, 5 Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan January 26, 2004 Having read the article in the constitution that "the Loya Jerga is a source of the national will", in fact it was proved to everyone during the days of discussions of the elected delegates at the Constitutional Loya Jerga that the saying was entirely true. For the first time in Afghanistan's political history the will and the desire of the people were demonstrated. Taken into account such an evaluation of the meaning of the Loya Jerga, the approval of the country's constitution, I would like to write briefly about the discussions going on in the Loya Jerga and talk about both the positive and negative points. Democracy and appearance of national will In this part, I would like to talk about the positive aspects and the greatness of the Loya Jerga. Yet both here and internationally, our people had been well known for fighting continuously, bad politics and a lack of skills and of plans to govern. For more than 20 years, this subject was presented in such a way to the people that the majority of Afghans even accepted the theory, telling each other that they were born to fight and not to engage in politics or to govern. However, the national grand assembly has shown differently. Through their elected delegates the Muslims and mojahedin showed that this malicious theory was wrong and made all national and international analysts understand that the nation has the skills if only they are allowed to show them. It was thought that like in the past the delegates would approve the draft of the constitution without any amendments by simply raising their hands. The elected delegates of the nation discussed and analysed different political, cultural, social and national issues in terms of approving the new constitution and everyone saw that this nation could draft the constitution, establish unity and understand the importance of national interests. And all those people who have come from overseas, from the land of God to our country (as received), to democratize the country were told: "We don't need your blessing, don't send us your evil." The elected delegates of the nation showed the political leaders that the level of political consciousness and awareness of the people is much higher than that of the leaders and that the political leaders bowed to the delegates in the Constitutional Loya Jerga, so that the ones who were either inside the Loya Jerga or outside could see it for themselves. The people, who are calling for the democratization of the country, against their beliefs saw that as soon as the people of Afghanistan received their freedom, they showed they understand and know more about the interests of the nation than those with higher education. The people are much kinder, sympathetic and aware of the needs of their nation. The discussions held by the elected delegates in practice criticized the motto of democracy among people in society and showed that demarcations couldn't even stand suffering the words of the nation (as received). The Loya Jerga is the expression of national will in the country's political life. It showed that Afghanistan is the shared home of all tribes and races, which eliminated obstacles on the way to unity. The elected delegates of the Loya Jerga laid the foundations for national unity of all tribes and races. God willing, they will take great decisions. The negative points of the Loya Jerga Everyone described the Constitutional Loya Jerga as democratic and talked about freedom of speech exercised by the delegates. But in practice, we saw that this was not true. For instance, the people may have noticed the government's interference in the affairs of delegates. From the esteemed head of state to members of the cabinet and people outside the cabinet, everyone interfered in (the affairs of the Loya Jerga delegates). For example, Mr Karzai apparently talks about democracy when he says: "Our hope is that in Afghanistan, everyone's skills and competency reaches the level of the president (as received). Doesn't he contradict himself when he says that there are some in the Jerga who aim to undermine it? So the representatives of 21 provinces and 251 (appointed) representatives have come under criticism in order to reflect the expectations of their people in the Loya Jerga. Or when (Deputy President Abdol Karim) Khalili says: "There are a few people who keep the people as hostages and don't allow them to vote." Which part of the statement is democratic? The motto of the Loya Jerga is national unity but in practice there have been attempts to undermine that. Fortunately there are some smart and intelligent delegates who recognize the importance of national interests over tribal expectations. The leadership of the Loya Jerga did not have adequate capacity to preside over the assembly and was constantly inclined towards tyranny and oppression. The labelling of the nation's delegates as "non- believers", "atheists" and so on did not help the atmosphere. Everyone talks about democracy and liberty but if a delegate criticizes a man for his crimes and destruction of Afghanistan, the very man who destroyed the country and killed many people, we should understand that this has nothing to do with criticism of Islam. Whenever someone stands up against those who turn Islam into a tool of oppressing people while building palaces for themselves, they hit him on the head with the rod of Islam by labelling him as a non- believer. They should leave Islam alone, as people in Afghanistan have been Muslims for generations now. Islam says that a man who doesn't accept one of the values of the religion is an unbeliever and not the man who criticizes the act by a criminal Muslim. The fact that the sessions of the Constitutional Loya Jerga were held behind closed doors was not democratic. It was against the philosophy of the Loya Jerga. Giving priority to the non-elected members of the Loya Jerga over the elected members was another negative point of the Constitutional Loya Jerga. This is my short evaluation of the Constitutional Loya Jerga and the people's role in it. After the adoption of the Constitution, I felt so happy with the positive points of it. For the first time the will and expectations of the oppressed people in this country was reflected in the Constitution. As a result this national fate-making experience by and large paved the way for progress of the great nation of Afghanistan who showed kindness and friendly behaviour from the beginning, as was also shown on the faces of the delegates, I hope in the future of the national life of the country we will live in a more brotherly way. So, God willing, we witness co-existence with other countries towards the caravan of progress and civilization, and rejuvenate and refresh the moving heart of Asia.
Afghanistan's Revival a ''Blueprint for Democracy''
February 5, 2004
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghanistan believes that its new constitution and impressive results
on the path of democracy and state-building are proof that the
country will "provide the future blueprint for democracy in similar
societies", said Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, Said
Tayeb Jawad, while speaking at a RFE/RL briefing last week. According
to the Ambassador, the adoption of the new constitution demonstrates
that "the tradition and values of Islam can be compatible with, and
mutually reinforcing of an open democracy."
Jawad stated that the constitution is the " most progressive charter
in the region" and "will emerge as a model" due to its system of
checks and balances between the presidency and parliament, separation
of powers, and respect for moderate and traditional values, women's
rights, international human rights standards, and provincial powers.
The constitution was adopted after three weeks of intense debate by
502 Afghani delegates -- "from all walks of life" -- gathered at the
Constitutional "Loya Jirga" or Afghan Grand Council. President Hamid
Karzai signed the new constitution into law on January 25, 2004.
During his presentation, Jawad outlined major points of the
constitution such as a strong central executive branch, which will be
headed by a strong president elected by a direct majority vote for a
5-year term, balanced by a legislative branch that will have
extensive powers of "inquiry" or oversight. Jawad emphasized the
required 25 percent quota for female delegates to the parliament,
saying "such a high quota for women is rare in most countries, both
Muslim and non-Muslim" and "these numbers should be inspiring for
women in the west." An Afghan civil law system and independent
judiciary have been institutionalized, he said, thus protecting
religious freedoms and prohibiting the rise of "a party based on
ethnicity, language, [or] an Islamic School of Thought." Jawad also
discussed the right to lease and the protection of intellectual
property rights, which have been extended to foreign and domestic
investors: "This protection exists in the constitutions of a few
Jawad commented on the "enormous" challenges his country still faces:
continued state-building, preparation for elections and political
transition, and security challenges created by terrorism and the
narcotics trade. He pointed out that "the next milestone for the
people of Afghanistan will be the implementation of the new
constitution" and "setting the stage for free and fair elections."
The ambassador called for help in funding, resources, and continued
engagement by the United States and international community, noting
that the partnership between the people of Afghanistan and the
international community will have a meaningful impact on the "global
war against terror" and his country will serve as "a center for the
cooperation of civilizations."
Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc.
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