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Afghanistan's Revival a 'Blueprint for Democracy'

(Washington D.C--February 5, 2004) Afghanistan believes that its new constitution and impressive results on the path of democracy and state-building are proof that the country will "provide the future blueprint for democracy in similar societies", said Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, while speaking at a RFE/RL briefing last week. According to the ambassador, the adoption of the new constitution demonstrates that "the tradition and values of Islam can be compatible with, and mutually reinforcing of an open democracy."

Jawad stated that the constitution is the " most progressive charter in the region" and "will emerge as a model" due to its system of checks and balances between the presidency and parliament, separation of powers, and respect for moderate and traditional values, women's rights, international human rights standards, and provincial powers. The constitution was adopted after three weeks of intense debate by 502 Afghan delegates -- "from all walks of life" -- gathered at the Constitutional "Loya Jirga" or Afghan Grand Council. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai signed the new constitution into law on January 25, 2004.

During his presentation, Jawad outlined major points of the constitution such as a strong central executive branch, which will be headed by a strong president elected by a direct majority vote for a 5-year term, balanced by a legislative branch that will have extensive powers of "inquiry" or oversight. Jawad emphasized the required 25 percent quota for female delegates to the parliament, saying "such a high quota for women is rare in most countries, both Muslim and non-Muslim" and "these numbers should be inspiring for women in the west." An Afghan civil law system and independent judiciary have been institutionalized, he said, thus protecting religious freedoms and prohibiting the rise of "a party based on ethnicity, language, [or] an Islamic School of Thought." Jawad also discussed the right to lease and the protection of intellectual property rights, which have been extended to foreign and domestic investors: "This protection exists in the constitutions of a few countries."

Jawad commented on the "enormous" challenges his country still faces: continued state-building, preparation for elections and political transition, and security challenges created by terrorism and the narcotics trade. He pointed out that "the next milestone for the people of Afghanistan will be the implementation of the new constitution" and "setting the stage for free and fair elections." The ambassador called for help in funding, resources, and continued engagement by the United States and international community, noting that the partnership between the people of Afghanistan and the international community will have a meaningful impact on the "global war against terror" and his country will serve as "a center for the cooperation of civilizations."

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