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Articles & Op-eds

Afghanistan Marches On
Ambassador Said T. Jawad
Kabul Scene Magazine

In January, President Hamid Karzai signed Afghanistan's new constitution into law. This marked another milestone on the path towards peace and stability in Afghanistan, as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement.

The first cornerstone was laid by the president two years ago, when he addressed participants at the Bonn conference by satellite phone from a cold hut in the mountains of the southern province of Uruzgan while fighting the Taliban. He asked the participants not to refer to him as a Pashtun leader, but as an Afghan; a citizen of Afghanistan. This statement deeply moved Afghans. Even as many worried that Afghanistan's recent history of war and violence would hobble the country's march towards the future, President Karzai placed his faith in national unity. A few weeks later, Kabul fell and he entered the city. He then built further on the foundation he had laid, and made his second-most important statement. President Karzai could have entered the capital as a warrior victor, escorted by tribal leaders or a few thousand armed men. But he chose to enter Kabul alone, as a civilian, as an unarmed man of peace. He knew that factionalism and a show of force would only beget violence and nurture tyranny. The people of Afghanistan embraced both statements as a clear break with the past, and this is how Afghanistan has chosen to chart its future.

President Karzai, with help from the international community, has turned this war-torn country into a centre for international cooperation. Afghanistan is emerging as a model for state-building, with its new constitution providing the best possible blend of respect for Islamic and traditional values of Afghan society and adherence to international norms of human rights. The constitution provides for equal rights and full participation of women in rebuilding a modern nation-state.

The constitution achieves the objective of building a strong central executive branch to keep the country together and rebuild national institutions destroyed by three decades of war and violence, with full consideration of the wishes of the provinces to exercise more authority in managing local affairs.

For instance, while the constitution is based on a unitary system with a strong presidency, it also provides for provincial and district-level councils to empower the people to participate in the local administration. For the first time, the constitution pays due respect to the cultural and linguistic diversity of a fragile society and makes official all major languages in areas where these are spoken by a majority. The new constitution further reveals that the values and tradition of Islam and democracy are compatible and mutually reinforcing. Afghanistan's successful advance on the path to democracy and state-building will inevitably impact the expectations and the aspirations of people in other arenas of the global war against terrorism and tyranny. A democratic Afghanistan is providing the future blueprint for democracy in similar societies.

The constitution proved that the relatively little investment that the U.S. and the international community have made to rebuild national institutions already has yielded impressive results.

But there is more to do. The next challenge for President Karzai is to implement the new constitution.

This is crucial to successfully holding elections. Afghanistan has many challenges. We must achieve complete victory over terrorism by building our security institutions and preventing cross-border terrorist infiltration. We must demobilize, disarm and reintegrate fighters. We must prevent extremists and warlords from hijacking the democratic process. Corruption must be eliminated, as well as narcotics production and trade. All these challenges can only be properly addressed with a mandate from the people, and to seek this mandate requires the implementation of the constitution.

Once a newly elected government is in place, it can work on the broader goals of the constitution: to build national institutions, strengthen the rule of law, reduce investment risks, encourage the growth of the private sector and enhance the people's participation in government. But for this next step, we will need fresh support from the U.S. and the international community. Afghanistan will meet donors in March, in Germany, to present its case and to ask for new pledges in the amount of $28 billion over a seven-year period. We have accomplished much in the two years since the fall of the Taliban. We just need a little more understanding from the world community to accomplish all our goals.

President Karzai's leadership in leading our people towards tolerance and peace shows this is within the reach of the Afghan nation.

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