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Analysts: Implementing New Afghan Constitution to be Difficult - 2004-01-15

Afghanistan now has a new constitution, as a result of a special loya jirga, or grand council. Agreement earlier this month on the new charter took some intense wrangling, as rivalries, some old, some new, hampered progress. Analysts say putting the document into effect can be expected to be far harder than writing it.

When the drafting of the U.S. Constitution was completed in 1787, an anxious woman asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government the new nation was to have. The statesman replied, "a republic, madam, if you can keep it."

Under its new constitution, Afghanistan is a republic, at least in name. But ethnic divisions and political rivalries are great obstacles to Afghans who want to keep their new republic. Much of the country still lives in insecurity and fear from local militias run by petty warlords as well as resurgent Taleban.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council, Lakhdar Brahimi the secretary-general's outgoing special envoy to Afghanistan, said the constitution will be meaningless without law, order, and security.

"The new constitutional order will only have meaning for the average Afghan if security improves and the rule of law is strengthened," he said. "And for too many Afghans, the daily insecurity they face comes, not from resurgent extremism associated with the Taleban, destabilizing as that is, but from the predatory behavior of local commanders and officials who nominally claim to represent the government."

The new constitution was reached by consensus, rather than a majority vote, because of several contentious issues, such as rivalries between ethnic Tajiks and Pashtuns, the role of women in Islamic society, and the kind of legal system the country should have.

Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, says the final document is a good blend of the modern and traditional. "Like any other political document, consensus should be built and compromises were needed to be made," he said. "But, overall, the constitution is our best combination of respect for traditional and Islamic values of a country, and yet keeping the forward-looking focus of the constitution to build a system based on respect for human rights and adherence to the international conventions."

But the central interim government of President Hamid Karzai, who is certain to run for a full term, is weak, having little power outside Kabul. It is heavily reliant on foreign governments for assistance, especially in the security arena. The building of a new Afghan army - largely with U.S. help - has been slow. The force is nowhere near necessary size, strength or state of readiness to take on the warlords.

Kathy Gannon, longtime Associated Press Bureau Chief in the region and now an Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the Kabul government lacks the means and the will to disarm the warlords' private armies.

"There has been no indication in the past two years that the president is ready to take the tough decisions that need to be taken to force these regional powers to give up their weapons, to make some real fundamental changes in the administration that takes the power away from these people and calls them to task," she said.

The problem is complicated, she adds, because U.S. troops are utilizing the services of many of the same warlords to hunt down remnants of al-Qaida and the Taleban.

However, Ambassador Jawad says Afghans' memories of 30 years of war and civil strife, coupled with international help, will ensure the constitution is implemented.

"One of the best guarantees for the implementation of the document is, first the will of the Afghan people and the lessons they have learned from the past, and then the second guarantee is the presence of the international community and the assistance provided by them to build the national institutions that are necessary to implement the constitution," he said.

Under an agreement reached in Bonn in 2001, elections are set to be held in June, but observers and analysts, including top U.N. officials, have said that deadline is impossible to meet. With intimidation still widespread, only a fraction of eligible voters have been registered. September is mentioned as a more likely time, and some analysts believe that poll will only be for president, with parliamentary elections to be held at a later date.