Afghans bog down over constitution

By Deseret News Dec 31, 2003, 12:00am MST

Carlotta Gall, New York Times News Service

KABUL, Afghanistan — The chairman walked out of the loya jirga Tuesday as nerves began to snap on the 17th day of the grand council, gathered here to approve a new constitution for Afghanistan.

Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, an elderly professor of Islam, suddenly walked out of his office and went home after speaking on the phone to President Hamid Karzai in the early afternoon. The loya jirga was already at a standstill as at least 100 delegates were boycotting the voting on final amendments in protest at what many called government interference, and all the political leaders had converged on Mojadeddi’s office.

The arguments that have exploded over the past two days inside the vast tent pitched on the grounds of Kabul Polytechnic have revealed the ugly scars of two decades of fighting and ethnic strife. The debate in its final stages has centered around the struggle for power between the two main ethnic groups — the Pashtuns, who once more feel themselves in the ascendancy, and the Tajiks, who have dominated Kabul since the fall of the Taliban.

The rivalry heated up when the Tajik camp accused the chairman and his deputies of rewriting parts of the constitution without consultation, and of ignoring their proposals.

Meeting the Tajiks’ demands would be a considerable compromise for Karzai, who has held out for a strong presidential system. His opponents want parliamentary control of the printing of money, the creation of a constitutional court, three vice presidents rather than one, a ban on top officials holding dual citizenship or having a foreign spouse, more power devolved to provincial councils, and for Uzbek and Turkmen language rights in their ethnic regions.

According to Muhaiuddin Mehdi, a delegate from Kabul, Mojadeddi cracked while in a phone call with Karzai. “On one side there is pressure from you, and the other side it is the delegates’ views. I cannot continue any longer,” he told the president. Mojadeddi left for home but returned later.

“God please show us the way of truth,” Mojadeddi prayed as he returned to his chair. He called an end to the session until the morning, saying that he hoped to bring the loya jirga to a conclusion with full consensus.