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08 January 2004

Khalilzad Says Afghan Constitution Reflects Desire for Change

U.S. ambassador says Afghans desire national unity, oppose extremism

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Afghanistan's new constitution reflected the aspirations of its citizens to turn away from religious extremism and warlordism and seek normalcy and stability.

Khalilzad spoke to the press in a conference call in Washington January 8, and said he was impressed with the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) delegates who were called to Kabul to debate and approve the new constitution. He praised the delegates for their courage to address the country's problems and express their visions of a new Afghanistan.

The ambassador said the approval of a national constitution was due, in part, to a "clear message" sent by ordinary Afghans who wanted the Loya Jirga proceedings to succeed.

The constitution, he said, reflected the aspirations of the majority of Afghans who wanted "a moderate interpretation of Islam as well as a reduced role for warlords and the strengthening of the central government institutions."

The ambassador said progress was being made towards unifying the country under the central government in Kabul. "The balance is shifting, in my view, in favor of the central government and against the local or regional militias and forces which are expected to be civilianized in the coming period," he said.

For Afghans, the document "in a revolutionary way" embraced the notion of equality between men and women, and ensured that at least 25 percent of the lower parliamentary assembly would be women delegates.

He said while the constitution recognizes that Islam as the state religion, it enshrines the right of minorities to practice their faiths.

Another way that the constitution bolsters minorities' rights, Khalilzad said, is its provision to allow minorities to speak their languages in their home provinces, although Dari and Pashtu were identified as Afghanistan's official languages. He said the Afghan model could have a positive influence in neighboring countries where minority rights "have not been adequately dealt with."

Khalilzad said the implementation of the constitution, as well as holding presidential and parliamentary elections, were the next important political tasks in the country.

He said he was optimistic that both elections would take place as planned in summer 2004. "Afghans have been pretty much on schedule with regards to the political part of the [2001] Bonn Agreement," he said.

However, he acknowledged difficulties with regards to the parliamentary elections, including the need for voter registration, the formation of political parties, new election laws to be passed, and an election commission to be set up.

Khalilzad said Afghanistan has made great progress over the past two years in terms of infrastructure and security improvements. Nevertheless, he said it would take "several years and billions of dollars" as well as a "sustained and substantial commitment by the United States and the international community" in order to get Afghanistan to where it can stand on its own two feet.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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