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December 15, 2003
Afghans Start Constitutional Convention

Afghans today took a dramatic step towards building a peaceful, modern democratic society by starting a consitutional convention:

A landmark constitutional convention began in Afghanistan on Sunday with solemn prayers, the songs of children and a stirring speech by the nation's former king, who echoed the aspirations of his war-weary countrymen with a call for unity and peace.

Some 500 delegates -- from village mullahs to Western-educated exiles -- were gathered at a huge tent in Afghanistan's battle-scarred capital, Kabul, to hammer out a new constitution in a traditional loya jirga, or grand council.

The meeting, which is expected to take several weeks, is being conducted under tight security, as Taliban terrorists are still a threat. Even the delegates are being searched prior to entry.

One of the interesting issues the loya jirga must confront is womens' rights in a new Afghanistan. Women under Taliban rule were notoriously oppressed, unable to do almost anything without a man present and forbidden to wear anything in public except the burqa. Now, women are part of the loya jirga and are participants in the creation of the new Afghani political structure, and are expected to greatly expand the role and rights of women. However, because of the danger surrounding these proceedings, the female delegates still arrived in burqas, which they shed once inside for normal clothing.

Another critical issue will be the creation of the executive. Afghanistan has been a warlord society, and so on one hand the delegates will be reticent to create a single executive office with strong power; on the other hand, only such a strong, single executive may be able to bring the warlords under control. Hamid Karzai has already stated that if a Prime Minister office is created in addition to a President, he will not fill either role and will instead resign.

Many problems face the Afghanis as they attempt to create a modern government and society from the ruins of the 12th-century rule of the Taliban. However, let's remember that at least now they have the opportunity to build a rational and somewhat liberal government that could allow their different ethnic groups to live in peace with each other and allow women to participate meaningfully in their society. They no longer have police roaming around, beating men for beards that aren't long enough or flying kites, or worse. We may have made mistakes in Afghanistan, chief among them not keeping enough troops in theater, but without our intervention, there would have been no loya jirga and no opportunity for freedom.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 15, 2003 5:56 AM

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