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Karzai Calls on Loya Jirga to Convene in October on Afghan Constitution - 2003-07-17

Afghanistan's interim President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree to convene the meeting of a traditional grand council, a "loya jirga," in October that will approve a draft of the country's new constitution. But, Afghan officials fear the gathering might be delayed because consulting the public on the draft is taking more time than planned.

Afghan officials say their efforts are focused on making sure that the new constitution fully addresses the concerns of the people of Afghanistan. They say a public consultation on the draft has almost been completed and experts have started analyzing the views collected.

Farooq Wardak is a spokesman for the commission crafting the constitution. Speaking to VOA by telephone from the capital, Kabul, he says the commission is collecting as many views as possible to prepare a legal document that will smoothly run war-devastated Afghanistan.

"We want this constitution to be owned by the people of Afghanistan," he said. "It can only be owned when their views are incorporated… then they will feel responsibility to implement it and respect it."

Mr. Wardak says intense efforts are being made to complete the constitution-making process before October, when the grand assembly will meet to approve the final document. But he says the meeting could be delayed if the public consultation is not finished.

"We will see the realities on the ground," he said. "If we… do not get people's opinion on time and second, having a good public education campaign and the third, of course we have to develop our own capacity to meet these challenges, should there be a need to delay the holding of the constitutional "Loya Jirga" for some days…"

The public consultation process has reportedly caused conflicts between extremist Muslim groups who want the Islamic character of Afghanistan maintained in the new constitution, and secularists who want it to embrace more liberal traditions.

On Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the creation of a 500-member grand council, called the Loya Jirga, which will start debating the draft constitution on October 1. In his decree, Mr. Karzai said that 450 members will be elected and 50 will be appointed.

The council will include 64 women.

The details of the draft constitution incorporating the views of the people will be made public on September 1. Its approval will lead to preparations for elections scheduled for June next year.

President Karzai promises that the election process will be "free and fair." But his critics say the rule of warlords in most parts of Afghanistan could undermine the polls, because they may use force and intimidation to impose their own nominees.