- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Our ship of state, which recent storms have threatened to destroy, has come safely to harbor at last.

Sophocles; "Antigone," 442 BC; l.163

In Kabul, we have been breathlessly watching a veritable Babel of people of varying ethnic and religious groups voluntarily meet to relaunch the Afghan ship of State. Some 1,600 delegates have been meeting under the sprawling canopy of a Munich Oktoberfest tent, a good way for Germany to continue building its influence in Kabul.

The people of Afghanistan are reconstituting their nation from the rubble, through the most ancient form of "democracy;" through consensus in a grand council, the Loya Jirga. The process began by holding local, district and province councils, "shuras," to build consensus and to select the final delegates. Warlords jockeyed to get their representation and the educated Afghan Diaspora contributed 30 delegates, including 16 elected from the U.S. exile community.

The Emergency Loya Jirga (ELJ) has helped decide how the country will be governed for the next 18 months, while newly elected President Hamid Karzai and his leadership prepare the country for national elections and a constitutional referendum on whether to re-establish a constitutional monarchy or to reconstitute itself as a republic.

There are two underlying realities at play in this reconstitution of the Afghan nation. The first is the peoples' exposure to every major ideological constitutional misrule. The second reality is that the northern minority Tajiks and Uzbeks are a good generation ahead of the Pashtuns in terms of understanding and desiring a more modern and progressive state; hence, the suspicions between the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun tribal leaderships.

Let me tackle the second "tide" moving this ship of state on its present shakedown cruise. The Uzbeks and Tajiks have at their backs Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, former subject states of the Soviet Empire. But there is modernity settling into those now independent Central Asian States. And we saw during the long war against Taliban that the Northern Alliance continued to educate its daughters, as well as its sons, in hopes of eventual liberation from the Lords of Theocratic misrule. In contrast, the Pashtun tribal leaderships and elites, though educating themselves well, have relegated their tribesmen to feudal neglect. The tribes have only the Pashtun tribal reservations at their back and had no immediate impetus for modernization of education and their basic economy. The Northern Alliance is right to suspect that too many Pashtun tribes will settle back into that medieval slumber. Hamid Karzai, himself chieftain of the Populzai, one of the largest Pashtun tribes, must lead the effort to rationally develop the human capital of the Pashtun tribes, even as the other constituent ethnic groups seek to develop their human capital.

Now this drive to develop the Pashtuns should be achievable over time, particularly among the royalist tribes of the Durrani Confederation and the northeastern tribes of the Gilzai Confederation, centered around Jalalabad and the Khyber Pass; it is those provinces and tribes in the middle Khost, Paktia, etc. where U.S. forces still chase Taliban-al Qaeda (TAQ) remnants, and where there is the most resistance to government authority and the least progressive tribes. Here was the real heart of Taliban support, and here are the longtime smuggling routes through the high mountain ranges of Pakistan's Northwestern Frontier Province.

As to experience with the forms of ideological constitutions; Afghan became a constitutional monarchy in 1965; then in a palace coup, became what one royalist delegate to the Loya Jirga from New York calls a "republican monarchy." Then, from 1979 came the Marxist-Leninists, and the Stalinist Najibullah. When he was toppled, chaos ensued when the alliance of Mujaheedin could not get past warlordism and a Confederation of both Ethnic and Religious parties. Enter Taliban and the Fundamentalist Theocratic state. "The Afghans," my friend the delegate likes to say with irony afire in his eye, "are sufficiently experienced in constitutions." Indeed. They have "supped full with horrors," as Macbeth would observe.

All societies (as opposed to artificial, imperially drawn states) have an implicit and culturally tailored constitution based on common law, and many, like Afghanistan, as geographical hubs, are also natural economic engines. Those factors favor the ship of state in the longer term.

It has been interesting to watch this rather boisterous Loya Jirga in action; combining as it does the functions of a constitutional convention and a parliament, as well as a social instrument for developing broad-based consensus. But then, the first Loya Jirga was held in 1749, when Afghanistan declared its independence from the old Persian Empire; a full generation before our own Declaration of Independence.And, this process tells us much about how to build consensus in the aftermath of similar civil tragedies. The consent of the governed is being sought.

My friend the delegate is a surgeon and professor, well-steeped in our Federalist political philosophy and in many other useful principles of philosophy and economics. In the generation of his children are thousands more who have gained relevant skills so necessary in reconstruction of a society and an economy from the rubble of a 23-year civil war. That younger generation and its children will help steer this relaunched ship of state, as the modern world gradually seeps into the tribal backwaters of the mountain Pashtuns. They know that Taiwan and Korea built up from rubble to great prosperity and parliamentary democracy in the span of 45 years one man's working lifetime and expect Afghanistan, the hub of its regional economy, can achieve something similar, within its regional economic context.

The course is being charted; the long voyage of state is about to begin.

Benjamin C. Works is director of the Strategic Issues Research Institute in Arlington and is writing a book on terrorism, reconstruction and nation-building.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide