Promoting democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia is one of the long-term goals of the war against terrorism. Unfortunately, enthusiasm for this goal must be tempered by the difficulty of quickly implanting alien Western civic values in tribal Islamic nations.
On Sunday, after a three week struggle complete with walkouts and more than enough political intrigue, Afghanistan’s loya jirga, or national convention, endorsed the draft Afghan Constitution.
The New York Times reports that significant highlights of the draft constitution include:
Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with Islam as its "sacred religion."President Bush cheered the new Constitution, saying:
Followers of other religions are free to perform religious ceremonies in accordance with the provisions of the law.
No law shall be contrary to the beliefs and practices of Islam.
Men and women have equal rights and duties before the law.
The president will be elected by the Afghan people, with two vice presidents, nominated by presidential candidates.
A national assembly will consist of two houses: a Wolesi Jirga or "house of people" and a Meshrano Jirga or "house of elders."
The president will appoint ministers, the attorney general and central bank governor with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga.
Pashto and Dari are the official languages, with other languages to be considered official languages in the areas in which they are spoken.
A democratic Afghanistan will serve the interests and just aspirations of all of the Afghan people and help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land.As I have posted previously, here, here and here, I remain concerned that the draft constitution names Afghanistan an Islamic Republic. The provision that no law shall be contrary to the beliefs and practices of Islam is even more bothersome. That provision sets up a constitutional conflict with the provisions that guarantee equal rights to men and women.
Having followed Afghan’s constitutional struggle, I have come to realize that even though the constitution is not perfect and is inconsistent, it should be viewed as another success in the war against terror. It demonstrates that Afghans want some form of democracy and that they were able to come to a peaceful agreement about the form of a democratic government.
Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost is not satisfied with the constitution. He believes it does too little to protect religious freedom. Joe has expressed his concerns and points out several of the constitution's inconsistencies in at least three thoughtful posts.
The conservative Islamic judiciary must still be watched because of issues like those Joe points out and to ensure that the recent freedoms provided to Afghan women are not diminished.
Justices serve a single limited ten years term;Brett finds comfort in this structure noting that “partisan entrenchment over the long term will be relatively difficult to obtain but possible over the short term.” I take that to mean that President Karzai will be able to pack the Supreme Court initially. If Karzai can accomplish that, then there is less worry over the conservative Islamic judiciary.
Justices are nominated by the President and approved by one of the bodies of the legislature (the Wolesi Jirga); and
The President has sole authority to pick the Chief Justice.
Zalmay Khalilzad, special presidential envoy and ambassador to Afghanistan, writes in today’s Washington Post praise the Afghan people:
Instead of relying on the power of the gun, they embraced the often difficult and sometimes messy democratic process of debating, listening and compromising. They trusted in the power of their words by openly deliberating the important issues. Afghans used newspapers, radios, teahouses, schools, universities, mosques -- even the Internet -- as forums to debate fundamental issues such as the system of government, the role of religion, human rights -- particularly the role of women -- and, in a country with more than a dozen ethnic groups, such emotional issues as official languages and the relationship between the center and provinces. Such a wide-ranging debate is unprecedented in more than 5,000 years of Afghan history.I have softened my view of the new constitution and agree with the sentiments expressed by Steven Taylor, at Poliblog, “Afghanistan is a better place. It is imperfect, to be sure, but clearly better.” It may be, as Ed, of Captain’s Quarters, says “A Giant Step For Freedom.” However it is one step in a long journey.