A panel of Afghans Monday presented their leaders with a draft of
the country's new Constitution, offering the war-scarred nation a
document that promises to draw on Islamic and democratic values to
create a strong presidential system.
The long-delayed draft, presented with pomp and prayers beneath
the falling leaves of a courtyard inside the presidential palace,
will now be open to public discussion ahead of a 500-member
constitutional loya jirga, or grand assembly, planned for next
But the proposed Constitution fell short of answering many of the
questions Afghan and international observers have about the future
direction of the nation. Some of the vagaries of the text underscore
the ongoing tensions here between progressives, who would like the
Constitution to lay the groundwork for Western-style democracy, and
conservatives, who want to ensure Afghanistan is governed by
principles outlined in sharia, or Islamic law.
The constitutional draft, which names Afghanistan as an Islamic
Republic and bears the year on the Muslim calendar - 1382 - at the
top, calls for the creation of a largely elected bicameral national
assembly which is forbidden to pass any law "contrary to the sacred
religion of Islam." But it did not call for a return to strict
sharia, instead envisioning the "creation of a civil society ...
based on the people's will and democracy."
As such, the 160-article text is viewed in some corners as the
basis of compromise between traditional and modern values - and in
others as a disappointment, especially for those who had hoped to
see specific provisions on issues such as women's rights.
"This commission did everything it could to create a document
which is in agreement with Islam and the national will of the
people," said Naimatullah Shahrani, the chairman of the drafting
commission and an Islamic scholar. Mr. Shahrani, who wears a wide,
wound turban and a bristling white beard, presented copies of the
proposed Constitution in regal red-leather binders to the country's
president, Hamid Karzai, as well as to the country's father figure,
King Zahir Shah, and the senior United Nations official here,
"This is not completed," Mr. Shahrani explained. "Maybe a lot of
people will give their opinion on different issues, and then the
commission will prepared a new draft before the loya jirga."
The release of the Constitution Monday cleared up some of the
uncertainties over what sort of government would lead Afghanistan
after nationwide elections, scheduled to take place next June. The
proposed Constitution put to rest rumors that the commission would
try to institute an office of prime minister, akin to the French
system, in an attempt to balance power between Mr. Karzai, an ethnic
Pashtun, and leading members of the Northern Alliance, the primarily-
Tajik military umbrella group.
Instead, the Constitution will allow for a powerful presidency, a
concept that a Karzai spokesman defended in a press conference. "The
most important thing a country like Afghanistan needs is stability,"
said Jawal Ludin, "and I think that's what the commissioners had in