A funny thing happened on the way to the new Afghan Constitution.
The 502 delegates actually gave women more rights than President
Hamid Karzai and his advisers had originally asked for.
Women emerged winners from the three-week constitutional loya
jirga. So did President Hamid Karzai, who got the strong presidency
and centralized government he had sought. Emerging as weaker were
the mostly ethnic Tajik warlords of the Northern Alliance, who found
themselves unable to outnumber or out-politic their opponents.
Key to the future, analysts say, will be how those warlords, who
helped the US-led coalition oust the Taliban in December 2001,
adjust to the democracy that Afghans forged under the big white tent
at Kabul Polytechnic University. Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim
Fahim and other Northern Alliance leaders still have stocks of heavy
weapons and have dominated Mr. Karzai's government.
"We'll have to see how they implement the constitution and in
what way the warlords adjust to the new reality,'' says Tahir Amin,
an Afghan expert at Qaid-i-azam University in Islamabad.
Many competing provisions within the document - such as the
equality of women versus the sanctity of Islamic beliefs - will need
to be sorted out through an independent - and largely conservative -
The new constitution, ratified by acclamation Jan. 4 after three
weeks of often fiery debate, represents Afghanistan's first stab at
democracy. It calls for an elected president, two vice-presidents, a
two-house parliament, and provincial governors appointed in Kabul.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad praised the document as "one of
the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world.''
The deliberations were often portrayed as a battle between the US-
backed Karzai, his Western-educated advisers, and the majority
ethnic Pashtuns on one side versus the mostly Tajik mujahideen
warlords of the Northern Alliance. And, indeed, that conflict
dominated - and nearly derailed - the proceedings.
But there emerged from the debate a third force, made up
Afghanistan's less- powerful groups: women delegates, ethnic
Hazaras, former Communists, and ethnic Uzbeks. It is they who
insisted that the definition of citizenship be broadened to include
"men or women," with both enjoying equal rights and duties before
And it was their influence that increased the number of seats
reserved for women in the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of
parliament, from one to two per province. Women will now hold at
least 64 out of 250 seats in the lower house, or more than 25
percent, which is higher than in most Western democracies. …