Experts Warn of Muscle-Flexing Behind Afghan Constitution
power plays at the just-concluded assembly to write a new constitution
for Afghanistan raise serious question about whether the country
can hold free and fair elections as scheduled later this year, say
rights groups and other experts.
praising the inclusion of women's rights in the new charter, New
York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said political intimidation,
vote-buying and a lack of transparency characterized key parts of
the three-week loya jirga, or grand assembly, which put the finishing
touches on and approved the country's charter.
a number of provisions in the document were sufficiently vague to
raise concerns about how they would be enforced in practice, the
rights protections were put on paper," said John Sifton, HRW's
researcher on Afghanistan. "But there were a lot of missed
opportunities and complaints and corruption during the convention,"
he added in a statement.
of the same critiques were leveled by Anatol Lieven, a Central Asian
specialist with the Washington-based Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace.
an article published by the Financial Times earlier this
week, Lieven stressed that the final document was "not so much
a constitution as an aspiration."
the assembly was "fairly representative" of Afghanistan's
diverse peoples and interests, he noted, it was "by no means
fully democratic, in either its selection or its procedures."
described the meeting as a "top-down process," and stressed
that the constitution would not have been ratified in the end "without
arm-twisting by the U.S., the United Nations and the international
of this bodes worrisome, both for the implementation of the constitution
and of national elections that are scheduled for June, but which
analysts are already suggesting might have to be put off until September,
if not longer.
noted that the just-concluded meeting made "significant achievements,"
particularly the guarantee inscribed in the constitution that women
will hold a substantial number of seats in the country's bicameral
25 percent of the seats in the lower house are reserved for women,
while the charter requires the president to appoint additional women
to the upper body, called the House of Elders.
addition, one provision provides that men and women should be treated
equally under the law, including the specifically enumerated political,
civil, economic and social rights that are recognized by the constitution.
according to HRW, the document lacks strong language ensuring that
institutions created to uphold those rights are empowered to do
so, while its failure to address the role of Islamic law and its
relationship to human rights protections could be used by a conservative
judiciary to implement interpretations of Islam that might run contrary
to global human rights standards.
constitution provided that no laws should contravene basic Islamic
said it was also concerned that the constitution fails to address
accountability for serious human rights abuses that have taken place
in the past.
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which was created
by the December 2001 Bonn Agreement after the U.S.-led military
campaign ousted the Taliban regime, might be able to delve into
the question, but the new constitution gives it no mandate to do
said it was especially concerned about the machinations by various
factions before and during the meeting to influence the outcome,
and added that the use of intimidation and bribery underlined fears
that warlords and local factions continue to dominate Afghanistan's
constitution cannot itself reduce the power of the warlords,"
said Sifton. "But an open political process in drafting it
could have weakened their influence. Instead, the warlords flexed
their muscles and proved they still hold a lot of power."
International (AI), which also observed the process, released
a statement two days before the Jan. 4 ratification that echoed
by strong political and armed factional leaders and the absence
of the rule of law in many parts of the country contributes to an
atmosphere of insecurity for delegates who wish to act independently
of powerful political groups," it said.
delegates fear for the safety of their families and for their own
lives, especially after they return home at the end of the (loya
HRW and Amnesty had documented numerous cases of death threats and
corruption in the process that selected the delegates to the loya
jirga, and U.N. officials told HRW that many of the delegates were
proxies of local factional leaders.
rights group said much of the substantive discussion took place
between allies and ministers of President Hamid Karzai and various
factional representatives behind closed doors. As a result, key
provisions in the constitution were never the subject of serious
emerged from the meeting having achieved his major goal securing
a strong presidential system. But what promises the government was
forced to make to prevail is not yet clear.
central government has relied virtually entirely on security and
military support from the United States, its allies in Afghanistan
and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
in a few locations around the country where US forces have deployed
to provide security and some reconstruction assistance, Karzai's
authority has not extended far beyond Kabul's municipal boundaries.
a result, much of the country is in the hands of warlords and factional
leaders, most of who identify with specific clans or ethnic minorities.
A new constitution that provides for a strong presidency is therefore
"almost surreal in its distance from the real distribution
of power in Afghanistan," according to Carnegie's Lieven.
called on the international community to provide better security
for the country. It said expanding and extending ISAF into the countryside,
as long called for by both the United Nations and relief groups,
would signify the international community's commitment to the constitution.
said that would be critical in coming months if elections are to
be held successfully. Taliban and allied forces have renewed their
presence in the Pashtun-dominated eastern and southern parts of
the country in a direct challenge to the central government's control.
week, the United Nation's former top Afghanistan expert and current
European Union representative in Kabul, Francesc Vendrell, warned
that a free and fair election could not be carried out if the current
security situation persists.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service