06 Jun 2004

In January, exactly a month after the second anniversary of the historic Bonn Agreement, President Hamid Karzai signed Afghanistan’s new constitution into law. This marked another milestone on the path towards peace and stability in Afghanistan, as envisaged by the agreement.

The first cornerstone was laid by President Karzai two years ago, when he addressed participants of the Bonn conference by satellite phone from a cold hut in the mountains of the southern province of Uruzgan, while fighting the Taliban. He asked the participants not to refer to him as a Pashtun leader, but as an Afghan; a citizen of Afghanistan. This statement deeply moved Afghans. Even as many worried that Afghanistan’s recent history of war and violence would hobble the country’s march toward future, President Karzai placed his faith on national unity. A few weeks later, Kabul fell and he entered the city. He built further on the foundation he had laid, and made his second most important statement. President Karzai could have entered the capital as a warrior victor, escorted by tribal leaders or a few thousand armed men; but he opted to enter Kabul alone, as a civilian, as an unarmed man of peace. He knew that factionalism and a show of force would only beget violence and nurture tyranny. The people of Afghanistan embraced both statements as a clear break with the past, and this is how Afghanistan has chosen to chart its future.

President Karzai, with the assistance of the international community, has managed to turn this war-torn, once-neglected and isolated country into a centre for international cooperation. Afghanistan is emerging as a model for state building, with its new constitution providing the best possible blend of respect for Islamic and traditional values of Afghan society and adherence to international norms of human rights. Afghanistan’s new constitution is the most progressive charter in the region, and rightly has been called “the most enlightened constitution in Islamic countries.” It provides for equal rights and full participation of women in rebuilding a nation-state in Afghanistan.

The new constitution achieves the objective of building a strong central executive branch to keep the country together and rebuild national institutions destroyed by three decades of war and violence, with full consideration for the wishes of the provinces to exercise more liberty and authority in managing their local affairs. For instance, while the constitution is based on unitary system with a strong presidency, Articles 138 through 140 provides for the formation of provincial and district level councils to empower the people to participate in the local administration. For the first time, the constitution pays due respect to the cultural and lingual diversity in a fragile society and makes all major languages official in the area that such languages are spoken by a majority. The new constitution further reveals that the values and tradition of Islam and democracy can be compatible, and mutually reinforcing. Afghanistan’s successful advance on the path to democracy and state building will inevitably impact the expectations and the aspirations of people in other arenas of the global war against terror and tyranny. A democratic Afghanistan is providing the future blueprint of Democracy in similar societies.

The constitution proved that the relatively little investment that the U.S. and the international community have made to rebuild national institutions in Afghanistan has already yielded impressive results.

The next milestone for President Karzai is to implement the new constitution and hold country’s first national election. Many challenges face us, achieving complete victory over terrorism by building our security institutions and preventing cross-border terrorist infiltration, implementing the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program, preventing the extremists and warlords from high-jacking the democratic process, eliminating corruption, and the narcotics production and trade, and strengthening security outside the capital by expanding the presence of the International Security Assistance Force and/or Provincial Reconstructing Teams in order to successfully organize the first national and democratic election in the country. The implementation of the new constitution will accelerate the formation of national institutions, strengthen rule of law and good governance, reduces investment risks, encourage growth of private sector, enhance people’s participation and enable the government to reach out every corner of the country to deliver services. To overcome these challenges Afghans need and demand accelerated support and sustained engagement by the U.S. and the international community.

As proven by the new constitution, President Karzai is real national leader to lead the march of the Afghan people toward a tolerant and peaceful society and unified and prosperous country.