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New Afghanistan Constitution 'Meaningless Exercise' Without More Security - 2003-04-17

As the world focuses on the rebuilding of the Iraqi government, some experts may first look to see the process so far in Afghanistan. But, there are warnings that, unless the Afghan people have greater security, political reconstruction and the drafting of a new constitution will be a "meaningless exercise."

The transitional government of President Hamid Karzai has created a commission to draft Afghanistan's new constitution to ensure political stability. Public debate on the draft will begin in the coming weeks. After that, the commission will submit the constitution to a special grand tribal assembly, or Loya Jirga, for adoption in October.

But analysts say that deteriorating security and the growing powers of regional warlords have become challenges for those drafting the constitution.

Barnett Rubin runs the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. He says the way the new constitution is being drafted is extremely important, because it can determine how widely the document will be accepted.

"But what is equally important is to create conditions in which it is possible to enforce a constitution, and that means that, when a representative body like the Loya Jirga adopts it, the government can then carry out its provisions," he said. "If there are large groups of men wielding power because they control weapons in different parts of the country, without being subjected to the law, then of course you cannot enforce the constitution."

Professor Rubin says that remnants of the Taleban, al-Qaida and loyalists of renegade Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have become a security problem in recent weeks for the government in Kabul. But he says President Karzai's administration faces another challenge, the growing powers of regional warlords.

"They prevent the government's political reforms from becoming a reality, and, therefore, they really prepare the way for people to support the enemies of the government more, because they may think that the only way to get rid of these commanders is by going back to the Taleban," he said.

Mr. Rubin says the time has come for President Karzai's government to decide whether the warlords should be part of any future political system.

The U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan has come under fire for using these militia leaders to dismantle the Taleban government 18 months ago, because it harbored the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The coalition partners and the United Nations established the interim government, putting Mr. Karzai in place, and urging his administration to set up a more permanent system. Many political observers around the world now are looking at the Afghanistan experience for guidance, as the United States and its allies establish a new government in Iraq.

There are indications from Afghanistan that just removing Iraq's unpopular government will not be enough to ensure peace and stability.

Professor Rubin says people in Afghanistan must be relieved to be rid of the fundamentalist Islamic Taleban rulers. But he says the U.S.-led coalition's job is not over yet.

"You have to provide security to people, after you get rid of their bad governments," he said. "So people might be happy to get rid off a tyrannical government, but it does not mean they want chaos instead, it means they want a better government. If chaos and disorder and crime is what takes the place of tyranny, people might want tyranny to come back."

Afghan human rights activists also maintain that, as long as traditional warlords are involved in rebuilding the country, Afghans will find it difficult to trust a new political system or even the constitution-drafting process. Sahar Saba is a senior member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan.

"Every thing is really uncertain, because we know that these warlords or fundamentalist leaders are quite powerful. They have been ruling Afghanistan right now," she said. "If they were not stopped, if they were given more support for the future, it really can be another catastrophe for Afghan people."

Members of President Karzai's administration maintain that all efforts are being made to ensure the new constitution addresses the needs of Afghan society. The United Nations and other donor agencies are helping shape the constitution.

Analyst Barnett Rubin says that to improve the chances for the new constitution's success, the international community must assume greater responsibility for Afghanistan's security. He says the United Nations International Security Assistance Force should expand outside the capital, Kabul, to achieve that objective.