Afghanistan’s lights and shadows

In Afghanistan the situation continues to oscillate on the familiar lines of ‘one step forward and two step backward.’ What the war torn country is gaining on the political front, they seem to be loosing on the security front. They now have a constitution, a no mean achievement given the fratricidal history of the country. Unfortunately they also have enhanced Taliban activities resulting in increased violence and uncertain security conditions.  

For President Hamid Karzai the agreement achieved by the Loya Jirga (Grand Council), which paved the way for the constitution, was definitely a source of great happiness. Given the intense ethnic divide, a document satisfying all was not expected to be easy. As it turned out it certainly was not easy.  

The 502 members Loya Jirga, which was convened in Kabul on December 14, 2003, took three weeks of acrimonious discussions to finally approve a slightly altered constitution than what was presented to them by the 35-member constitution committee. The more thorny issues, which saw heated debates, related to the placement of religion as the supreme law of the land, the status of regional languages, and the powers of the President.  

Many moderate delegates did not want the country to be called ‘Islamic’. As expected this brought a heated debate in the council, with Loya Jirga chairman Prof. Sibghatullah Mujaddedi going so far as terming all such moderates as ‘infidel.’ Consensus was finally reached when the name of the republic was adopted as ‘The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’, with a provision that no law could be passed which were repugnant to Islamic Laws.  

Another emotionally charged compromise was reached when hitherto sole official language of Afghanistan Pushto was lumped with other regional languages as the official languages of the state. Thus regional warlords like the Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum succeeded in breaking the dominance of the majority Pashtuns.  

There was also much haggling about the powers of the President. Mr. Karzai naturally wanted sweeping powers. He even hinted that incase the President did not have sufficient powers he may not even like to hold on to that office. The final document did satisfy him, though certain checks were placed on the President’s powers.  

On the balance, Karzai government helped by the US can justifiably take credit for achieving a consensus. This is also good news for all who have watched with dismay Afghanistan go from one crisis to other during the last two decades. It certainly is in the interest of all within and outside Afghanistan that the country stabilizes and moves on the path to progress. It is a long road traveled from the start of US and allied forces strike on October 7, 2001 and the entry of the Northern Alliance in Kabul on November 13, 2001.  

Now comes the hard part. How to implement the constitution in letter and spirit? Even at this early stage charges are being brought against President Karzai for tempering of the document. A vocal group of the Loya Jirga lead by Abdul Hafiz Mansoor has alleged that the document signed into law by President Hamid Karzai has had certain alterations concerning the powers of the President. The government, off course, denies any such thing happening.  

An immediate reminder of the things to come was witnessed in the shape of lifting and restoring of ban on female singers in quick successions. In a bold move Kabul TV, taking the cue from the recently passed constitution that places men and women equal in the eyes of law, featured some old footage of singer Parasto, who now lives in the west. She was shown performing without a scarf. This brought the Supreme Court and the ministry of Information in conflict with the Court ordering restoration of the ban. This could be a reminder of the struggle ahead of the moderates and the conservatives.  

Then there is the problem of holding of general elections under the new constitution envisaged for June this year. Two major roadblocks being cited for the possible missing of the deadline are slow rate of registration and the security situation.  

Two decades of civil war has left almost all institutions of the country in disarray. With large-scale migration of population from one direction to other to find safety, registration of voters is proving to be a major challenge. UN spokesman Manuel de Almeida e Silva has warned that the rate of registration was so slow that it would be ‘impossible’ to hold elections this year.  

The other and more perilous problem concerns the security situation in the country. After two years of fight against the remnants of Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation still is far from being happy. As matter of fact in the recent months there has been an upsurge of violence. Now there is talk of some major offensive by the US and Allied troops in the spring. All these cast doubts about the possibility of early return of normalcy and setting up of an elected government.  

Afghanistan is a test case for the US administration. A quick return to normal democratic set up in Afghanistan would have a definite psychological bearing on the road map of democracy in Iraq. On the other hand a long drawn effort to achieve normalcy in Afghanistan is likely to not only make things more difficult in Iraq, but also generally undermine the US effort of war on terror.