- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan introduced a post-Taliban draft constitution yesterday, a historic milestone on what has been a bloody, bumpy and often tragic path to recovery after decades of war.

The draft, which starts by declaring that “Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic,” creates the posts of president and vice president, as well as envisioning two houses of congress.

The president would be a strong executive who would serve a five-year term and act as commander in chief of the armed forces. He also would have the power to appoint judges, military officers, police and national security officials.

The draft reflects the government’s desire to bring the country together under the banner of Islam, which is practiced by the vast majority of Afghans. However, the hard-line Islamic law enforced by the former Taliban regime is not expected to be a part of Afghanistan’s future.

Under the Taliban, men were forced to grow beards and pray, women were banned from schools and almost all public life, and music was forbidden. Executions were carried out before large crowds at Kabul’s sports stadium.

“The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the provisions of law,” the draft states, according to an English translation provided by the government.

While avoiding direct mention of the Islamic holy law known as sharia, the draft states that “in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this constitution.”

The position of prime minister, included in previous versions, was cut from the final draft. Many feared a strong prime minister could have emerged as a political and military rival to the president, a major concern in a country that has known little but war for a quarter-century.

“The most important thing that a country like Afghanistan needs is stability,” said Jawid Luddin, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai. “This constitution is made for Afghanistan for the next 100, 200 years.”

Under the draft, considerable power will be invested in the president, who will appoint one-third of the members of the upper house of parliament.

Of those, half must be women, the draft says, guaranteeing Afghan women a permanent role in the country’s leadership for the first time. In the lower house, at least one woman must be elected from each of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces.

The draft still must be debated at a grand council, or loya jirga, next month. Ratification of the document will set the stage for nationwide elections scheduled for June.

A rash of violence by suspected Taliban insurgents and fighting among powerful warlords that control large swaths of the country have raised questions whether the vote can be held safely at that time.

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