JavaScript Menu, DHTML Menu Powered By Milonic

Media Center

Embassy in the News

New Afghan Constitution, Elections Will Realize Bonn
Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

New Afghan Constitution, Elections Will Realize Bonn

Agreement Afghan and U.S. dignitaries gather in Washington to discuss progress
Washington -- With the expected ratification of a new constitution in December and national elections planned for the first half of 2004, Afghanistan is on the verge of realizing the political goals laid out in the 2001 Bonn Agreement, said Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Abdullah and other Afghan leaders joined U.S. officials for the 2003 Afghanistan-America Summit on Recovery and Reconstruction at Georgetown University in Washington November 10.

"Today we are entering the last stages before the Afghan people can, for the first time in their history, freely elect their country's leader and legislature," said Abdullah. "Let us not forget that direct election of a legitimate and fully representative government by the men and women of Afghanistan as scheduled for next year was but a distant dream two years ago."

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky described the elections, scheduled to be held no later than June 10, 2004, as "a watershed in the advancement of democracy in Afghanistan."

She said that in preparation, the United Nations would field 305 voter registration teams consisting of 12 Afghan men and women, and that eligible voters would receive registration cards.

Also, she said, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was spending $8.86 million toward election assistance "which will be used for such efforts as education and training for political parties and civic activists."

Dobriansky called for increased security during the elections -- for both international workers and voters -- in order to prevent possible intimidation and to help ensure the legitimacy of the outcome.

The under secretary praised the Afghan constitutional process as being "broadly inclusive." She noted that public consultations were held throughout the country to ascertain what the people wanted to see in the document.

She specifically noted that Afghan women were active participants in those consultations. According to Dobriansky, the U.S. government has funded public meetings and workshops throughout the country, as well as a radio station in Mazar-E Sharif, in order to raise political awareness and encourage the participation of women, including those who are illiterate or live in rural areas.

The elections "will be a particularly important milestone for Afghan women, who will have an opportunity to vote and establish a political role for women in a representative government that respects the inalienable rights of all of its people," said Dobriansky.

"We stand ready to assist the Afghan government in guaranteeing that the rights enumerated by the new constitution are adequately protected and that the document lives up to its promise to be the supreme law of the land," she said.

Fatima Gailani, one of the 35 members of the constitutional commission who visited mosques, schools and other public places to discuss the document, said she would "cherish this experience" throughout her life.

"[W]e had the most wonderful conversation with these people," she said. She reported that most of her fellow citizens told her they wanted an Islamic, democratic country and favored national unity over linguistic and ethnic barriers. She said they also emphasized the need for better education and more access to health care.

"We accommodated as much as we could," said Gailani. She said the final text of the document would be decided at the Loya Jirga assembly that is expected to convene December 10. However, implementing the new constitution requires "real determination on behalf of the government," she said, adding that her fellow citizens need to view their vote as sacred and make sure their candidates will support the document.

Yet, she said, the country needs peace, stability and prosperity in order for the constitution to work, and she asked the international community for further contributions and help.

Foreign Minister Abdullah warned in his speech that all of the funds pledged by the international community at the 2002 Tokyo Donor's Conference will have been fully disbursed "within the next few months."

Afghan Minister of Finance Ashraf Ghani said the combination of the large narcotics trade, terrorism and growing disenchantment on the part of Afghans waiting for their lives to improve are beginning to close the current "window of opportunity."

"We must all work in partnership to deliver ... what the people of Afghanistan want and so richly deserve -- stability, prosperity, rule of law and democratic governance," said Ghani, speaking to the conference through a taped address.

Shair Baz Hakemy, Afghanistan's Minister-Advisor of Private Sector Economic Affairs, envisioned the country returning to its ancient role as a center for trade and transit between its neighbors in Central and South Asia, Iran and China.

"South Asia's energy requirements over the coming decades, considering Central Asia's vast energy reserves, is a crucial point," said Hakemy. "Afghanistan's untapped energy resources and mining resources -- i.e., gas and oil, iron and copper, precious stones and many other precious and other metals, coal and other mines -- represent a great potential for investment."

USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios gave the conference an update on his agency's reconstruction and humanitarian projects, including the Kabul-Kandahar road.

Natsios said the application of a new layer of asphalt, which he described as "phase one," would be completed by December 31. "The second layer will be put on next spring and the shoulders before June of next year," he said. "Then we have already begun the survey teams to rebuild the road from Kandahar to Herat. The Europeans and the World Bank are rebuilding the Ring Road from the top half of the country."

The USAID administrator said that since the Taliban regime was driven out in late 2001, 203 schools have been rebuilt, with plans calling for another 1000 to be rebuilt or repaired by 2006. Also, 121 health clinics were built, with another 400 planned.

Two million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been resettled, and many Afghans have received training in education and medicine. Natsios also reminded his audience that international efforts helped to prevent a famine during the winter of 2001-2002, and with agricultural assistance, the country's wheat harvest has now risen 82 percent to its best yield ever.

U.S. Ambassador-designate and Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said the Bush administration's commitment is "unyielding," as reflected by its $2.3 billion assistance plan for the 2004 fiscal year. He said that in addition to helping build and train the Afghan National Army, police and other security forces, the money would be used to improve the quality of life by providing for health clinics, irrigation, schools, power generation, private sector initiatives, and other reconstruction projects.

Afghanistan is no longer "the playing ground of terrorists and extremists such as al Qaeda," said Khalilzad. "Our strategy and program is aimed to consolidate this change." He said he hoped the country could become a model for "moderation and cooperation between the world of Islam and the West."

Afghanistan's appointed ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, told the audience that his countrymen were determined to seek a better future. He told the story of how a girls' school in the province of Logar was set on fire in early September and the students arrived the next day, "sat next to the ashes of the burned-out class in the blazing sun and insisted on proceeding with their lessons."

"This is the spirit of the Afghan people," said Jawad. "Afghans are determined to rebuild their country."

Home | Contact Us | Sitemap © 2006 Embassy of Afghanistan and GlobeScope Inc. All Rights Reserved.