Afghanistan: Constitutional process proceeding

ISLAMABAD, 15 January (IRIN) - Afghan constitutional experts and former lawmakers have had mixed reactions to the announcement that the first draft of the country's new constitution will be made public in March, following a consultative process by the nine-member Constitutional Drafting Commission inaugurated late last year.
"This is a welcome step, but the commission should have included more legal experts and jurists," the exiled Afghan legal expert, Roastar Tarakai, told IRIN from the French city of Lyon on Wednesday. "It is a very sensitive time for our country, and this task needs careful deliberation," he said, adding that the supreme law should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people and the realities of their society.

According to a spokesperson for the UN Mission in Afghanistan, once the first draft is completed, wide consultation with civil society and experts in all 32 provinces, as well as among Afghans in other countries, would follow. A final draft is expected to be ready by October, and will be submitted to the Constitutional Loya Jirga or grand council later this year.

At a press briefing in Kabul on Monday, Vice-President Ne'matollah Shahrani said the future constitution would be based on Islamic principles and Afghan legal traditions, as well as on international norms and standards. "The new constitution will move the country away from isolation, and show the world that Afghanistan wants to be integrated into the international community," he said.

But some Afghans remain cautious. "I think that they are rushing the process ahead of time," Siraj-ud Din Mangal, a member of the lower house of parliament when it adopted the 1964 constitution, told IRIN from Germany. "The constitution should only be formed after legislatures are democratically elected. It's their job," he said. "The whole political framework of the state depends on the constitution. It's the basis indeed."

The first Afghan constitution was adopted in the 1920s when the reformist king, Amanullah, declared independence from Britain. In 1932 King Nadir Shah gave the country another constitution, only to be replaced by a more democratic one in the reign of his son, Muhammad Zahir Shah, in 1964. As the Bonn agreement draws heavily from this constitution, it was partially restored last year. Subsequent regimes in the 1970s and 1980s also gave Afghanistan new constitutions, but they failed to gain universal acceptance.

Although Tarakai and Mangal backed a formal role for Islam in the new constitution, the former stressed the need for containing political Islam, while the latter highlighted the need for Islamic Shari'ah law to be enshrined in the constitution in the deeply conservative Islamic country. But Tarakai said "there should be religious freedom in the country with everyone free to practice their religion".

Regarding one of the more sensitive issues, Tarakai maintained that Afghanistan should remain a unitary state, while guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic groups and regions. "This will end warlordism and will also promote national unity," he said.


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