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Afghanistan's Draft Constitution Draws Criticism - 2003-11-07


Afghanistan's draft constitution is drawing tough criticism. Some observers object to the strong powers granted to the president, while others say not enough attention is paid to human rights.

The president envisioned in the Afghan draft constitution would hold tremendous power, even more than leaders in other countries with strong presidential systems, such as France and the United States.

In addition to common presidential powers, such as appointing the Cabinet or drafting the budget, he or she would also appoint a third of the members of the national assembly's upper house.

And when the assembly is not in session, the president would be allowed to enact temporary laws by decree, until legislators reconvene.

The draft constitution was released November 3. It is a key step in establishing a permanent government in Afghanistan, which has been led by a transitional administration since U.S. and Afghan forces ousted the former Taleban government in 2001.

The idea of a single powerful leader upsets some groups in Afghanistan's political community, such as the Jamiat-e-Islami, a party headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

A spokesman for the group, Sayed Inattollah Shadab, says a president with too much power is dangerous for the country. Mr. Shadab says that, under current conditions, his party believes giving such sweeping authority to a single person marks a step down the road to dictatorship.

He adds that the Jamiat-e-Islami, the leaders of which are mostly members of Afghanistan's ethnic Tajik minority, would rather see a parliamentary system.

This, he says, would allow for a greater sharing of power among Afghanistan's many diverse communities.

Ahmed Nader Nadery, who heads the national Independent Human Rights Commission, says most Afghans are instinctively opposed to any hint of authoritarianism.

"This makes [for] concern in a country like Afghanistan, which has experiences of dictatorship," he said.

Afghanistan's recent history includes a series of dictators, including communist leaders, such as Barbrak Karmal, as well as 1970s autocrat Mohammed Daoud.

But Mr. Nadery says the Human Rights Commission has even greater concerns when it comes to the draft constitution's language on personal liberties.

The draft only mentions the goal of protecting human rights, but leaves it to national law to decide how those rights should be protected.

He says this opens the door to abuse.

"The main provisions within the [draft] constitution, in the Bill of Rights section are bound to the law, which is not acceptable to us," he said. "It can create limitations to the rights of the citizens. Any government based on their own idea can create limitations by law."

Other critics of the draft dislike its vague statements about creating an Islamic republic.

The draft's third article says that no law can be contrary to Islam, but makes no mention of seeking strict adherence to Muslim law, as in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The deputy head of the pro-royalist National Unity Movement, Abdul-Hakim Noorzai, says the framers of the draft should have been clearer.

"We really don't know the definition of 'Islamic republic,'" he said. "They want a republic like Iran, or they want another Islamic republic, like Pakistan?"

Defenders of the draft say it is open to revisions and is only meant as a starting point.

Human Rights Commissioner Nadery says he understands this, but adds that any changes must be made quickly, before the loya jirga - a council of community leaders - meets next month to adopt the constitution.

Once the loya jirga opens on December 10, Mr. Nadery says, major changes to the draft will be difficult.

Mr. Noorzai adds that the Afghan people's final verdict on the constitution will depend significantly on how fair they perceive the loya jirga elections to be.

"If there is intervention of the government, intervention of the armed forces, this will not be a real loya jirga, this will be a puppet loya jirga," he said. "And the result of this loya jirga will not have any effect on the situation of Afghanistan."

He says that such a situation could mean a return to civil war in Afghanistan, which has been devastated by more than two decades of fighting.

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