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Afghanistan: Debate Continues on Proposed Constitution - 2003-12-30


After more than two weeks of discussion, Afghanistan's constitutional assembly - the "loya jirga" - is now debating changes to the country's proposed constitution. The 502 members of the loya jirga reconvened Tuesday after breaking into working groups to propose amendments to the draft constitution.

The draft document, prepared earlier this year by the transitional government, calls for a new Afghan government to be led by a directly-elected president holding wide-ranging powers.

Some of the suggested amendments seek to limit those powers. One proposal, for example, demands the president seek legislative approval not just for cabinet ministers, but also for such posts as head of the national intelligence service and governor of the central bank.

There is general agreement on passages making Islam the state religion, but another proposal seeks to strengthen religion's role in public life, including a requirement that the phrase "Allah is great" appear in the national anthem.

Some delegates want the constitution to commit the government to fight terrorism, and to forbid the production and use of alcohol, opium and other intoxicants.

The transitional government had originally scheduled the loya jirga to last only ten days. With that deadline having been passed a week ago, the government is now urging the delegates to move more quickly.

On Monday, Farooq Wardak, the head of the Constitutional Commission Secretariat, appealed to the delegates to remain focused on their job. Mr. Wardak says many of the delegates have been spending time attending parties in the capital, Kabul, slowing their work on the constitution. He told the delegates that the longer the deliberations continue, the more money it will cost and the more police resources will be wasted providing security for the assembly.

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