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Many Afghans Voice Support for Loya Jirga - 2003-12-19

Afghanistan's constitutional assembly may be making slow progress in deciding what form of government to establish, but many Afghans are voicing support for the process, which they see as a good sign for their country's future.

After more than two decades of war, many Afghans say they are sick of the fighting. They see the constitutional assembly now in progress, the loya jirga, as a way out of the cycle of violence.

Fardeen, a 29-year-old clothing shop merchant in the capital Kabul, says he and his peers see the loya jirga process as democratic, and likely to produce a stable government for the country.

He says the current transitional government, which convened the loya jirga and wrote the draft constitution now being debated there, has done a good job during its two years in power.

Mr. Fardeen says this trust in the transitional government and its president, Hamid Karzai, bolsters public approval for the constitutional debate.

"Since the new president has come, Mr. Karzai, the country has gotten better, especially the people working to build the apartments, the streets, the construction," he said.

Afghans speaking to VOA say they are closely following the loya jirga debates on radio or television, and discussing the issues among themselves.

The council sessions have involved some heated exchanges, in one case angry verbal sparring over the presence of militia commanders among the delegates. One delegate accused these commanders of committing "war crimes" during the civil war of the 1990s.

Kabul street vendor Noor Mirza says this, in fact, makes for good entertainment.

"I watch [it] on TV. Loya jirga is now good, very good show," said Noor Mirza.

But opinion on the constitutional process is by no means unanimous.

Opponents in some southern and eastern provinces are waging an armed insurgency against the transitional government, and have threatened to attack the council.

Political observers see the insurgency, led by remnants of the ultra-religious former Taleban regime, as linked in part to distrust of the Northern Alliance, which holds many of the high offices in the transitional government.

The southerners are primarily Pashtuns, the country's majority ethnic group, while the Northern Alliance today is made up mainly of ethnic Tajiks.

Security, provided by Afghan and U.S. troops, along with an international peacekeeping force in the capital, has so far kept the loya jirga delegates from harm.

But taxi driver Abdul-Ahaad of the southern city of Kandahar says the tight security causes problems of its own.

He says he and other drivers are prevented from moving about Kabul to look for Kandahar-bound passengers, and from using hotels, restaurants and places of prayer. A definite date for the end of the loya jirga has yet to be announced, but delegates predict that it will adopt a new constitution within the next one to two weeks.