- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

An Afghan constitutional shipwreck is looming before the United States and the United Nations. The probability that the witch's brew of Afghan

factions will pluck a flower of constitutional safety from the nettle of historical warlordism and grim ethnic and religious enmities is submicroscopic.

Imminently after the ramshackle interim six months administration of Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan will be staring at an abyss once again, and the abyss will stare back. The country will fracture and convulse, and United States troops will be necessary to prevent a second edition of al Qaeda from flourishing on Afghan soil.

This impending disaster can be avoided by a prolonged United Nations protectorate over Afghanistan until the mores of democracy and the rule of law are widely inculcated.

Afghanistan's unity on the heels of the defeat of Taliban and al Qaeda, largely by United States gallantry and muscle, is artificial. War makes deep and longstanding hatred and prejudices temporarily dissolve. During World War II, for example, the United States transformed the ugsome Josef Stalin, co-villain with Adolf Hitler in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, into a fetching "Uncle Joe" after an alliance was struck with the Soviet Union to defeat the Third Reich.

After the war ended, the unity instantly vanished. The Yalta Accords bowed to the Iron Curtain, the United States confronted Soviet-inspired insurgencies in Greece and Turkey, the Berlin blockade, a communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet explosion of a nuclear bomb facilitated by espionage at Los Alamos, and the Korean War.

The surface unity in Afghanistan featuring interim President Karzai is no more promising for the future than was the United States-Soviet wartime alliance. Before the climb to power by Taliban in 1996, the current Afghan factional sachems (or their predecessors) had made misery and death the nation's signature. Internecine warfare among and within Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras bestrode the land like a monster. Indeed, the Taliban ascendancy from 1996-2001 came only because the Afghan people hated the medieval warlords even more. That cast of ruffians had fought Taliban without result or popular enthusiasm for years, and ultimately prevailed only by standing on the shoulders of United States troops, like Charles de Gaulle entering Paris in August 1944.

Afghanistan's restored political grandees and their ethnic or religious flocks insist they have learned from the sanguinary past. They have morphed into democrats and troubadours for the rule of law and intramural bliss, turning Robert Louis Stevensons' "Jekyll and Hyde" story on its head. But the tale is wholly implausible.

None have even rubbed shoulders with the statesmanship and profundity pivotal to nation-building. Their sole tutor has been the bayonet and treachery, not the Enlightenment. Their throbbing loyalties are personal, tribal, clannish, purchasable, not national or ideological. Our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Gettysburg Address find no counterparts in Afghanistan's history. It likewise features no parallels, in pastel or primary colors, to George Washington, John Adams, James Madison or Thomas Jefferson.

Afghanistan's interim deputy defense minister, Uzbek Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, is emblematic. He has been all things to all people more than once.

Nation-building, moreover, is the most daunting art known to mankind, as John Adams understood. It demands a thorough mastery of human nature, history, culture and enlightened compromise. It requires an educated public and free press to check government abuses. Good will, without more, will not do, just as heart surgery is not entrusted to amateurs displaying unstinting love for the patient.

None of Afghanistan's interim power elite are even novitiates in nation-building. Exemplary is the apparent consensus voiced by the female deputy prime minister to craft a new constitution from the Afghan "liberal" 1964 model. That is like using the Stalinist 1936 constitution as the template for a democratic post-Gorbachev Russia.

Crumbs of democracy and the rule of law are begrudged even cameo appearances in Afghanistan's 1964 constitution. Article 2, for instance, makes Islam the state religion, and dictates that state religious rites ape the Hanafi Sunni sect. Article 8 requires the king to embrace the Hanafi doctrine. The largely Shi'ite Hazaras and non-Hanafi adherents are made second-class citizens. Church-state separation or respect for religious minorities is chimerical.

The Hanafi kingship, which passes by inheritance, is the sun in the 1964 constitutional solar system. The king commands the armed forces, declares war and makes peace, dissolves the parliament, promulgates ordinances, signs statutes, appoints ministers and the justices of the supreme court to 10-year terms, proclaims states of emergency. Local autonomy is taboo. Freedom of expression is illusory. Broadcasting is monopolized by government, and the print media is left to the mercy of ordinary laws.

A 1965 statue, for instance, prohibited defamation of Islam or the king, false or distorted news, disparagement of the army or the nation's fiscal affairs, or deception of public opinion. The 1964 constitutional enterprise crashed in a 1973 coup, which inaugurated an even more benighted national charter.

At present, Afghanistan is incapable of self-rule. After more than two decades of continuous warfare, it sports no genuine democratic leaders or statesmen. A sense of Afghan nationality is at best embryonic. Illiteracy is widespread. Private civil associations or non-governmental organizations are anemic. The media as a watchdog on government is nonexistent. Bitter and centuries-old ethnic and religious divisions have only begun to wane.

In sum, the interim Afghan government and its scheduled successor are destined for calamity. Accordingly, as in Kosovo and Bosnia, the United States working through the United Nations Security Council should subject Afghanistan to an indefinite United Nations administration while nurturing the institutions and customs of democracy. That task may take long years, as the United States learned in the Philippines and post-World War II West Germany and Japan. But if left untended, our laudable dismantling of Taliban and al Qaeda will be substantially squandered.


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