WASHINGTON – On paper,Afghanistan's constitution is the “most progressive charter in the region,” setting the stage for the country to become a model for other emerging democracies,Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States said Thursday.
But,challenges linger in part because narcotics traffickers,warlords and corrupt officials have exploited the resources of a people who for 50 years had not been allowed to choose its own leadership or system of government,he and other experts said at a briefing sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace.
The ambassador,Said Tayeb Jawad,said Afghan citizens and U.S. coalition forces have tried over the past two years of drafting the document to “create a society based on social justice” that protects human dignity.
Barnett Rubin,director of studies and senior fellow at New York University's Center for International Cooperation,said Americans should be concerned about the problems. Once Afghanistan's people are secured,he said,this security can be shared with the rest of the world.
Rubin described his observations about the country's transition into democracy.
“All the most important issues,including sensitive ethnic and religious issues,were openly and explicitly discussed,” said Rubin,who served in 2001 as special adviser to the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan.
During this time,the Bonn Agreement was passed,which allowed the drafting of a new constitution to begin by more than 500 Afghans who made up the loya jirga,or grand assembly.
“To some extent,the outcome is a genuine representation of where the balance falls today in Afghanistan,” Rubin said.
The constitution modifies many aspects of Afghan society. It recognizes a language as being official in an area where the majority speaks it and secures women's rights. But in the courts,Afghanistan struggles with balancing “judicial independence with judicial non-accountability,” Rubin said.
As a result,“the process of making a nation has gotten ahead of the process of making a state,” he said.
Laurel Miller,who served in the U.S. State Department as deputy to the ambassador-at-large for war crime issues,said the chief justice of Afghanistan's supreme court has resisted any change to the justice sector. She described the institution as “corrupt” because of low salaries and poor legal training.
To begin reforms,Miller,now with the institute's Rule of Law Program,suggested judicial monitoring and long-term training to prepare the next generation of law practitioners.
Additional challenges remain for the new government. For example,farmers can make 10 times more money by producing opium than any other product,said Bob Perito,special adviser to the institute's Rule of Law Program. A U.N. report ranked Afghanistan as the No. 1 opium producer in the world,he said.
Miller said coalition forces have been known to discover opium in vehicles at checkpoints,but ignore it.
“This reinforces the belief,on the part of some Afghans,that the U.S. endorses some of these warlords,” Miller said.
With the help of U.S. officials,a centralized Afghan government can help curb a drug trade that has been linked to terrorism,Miller said. Training centers are planned to assist officials in the detection and elimination of drug trafficking,but they are not yet constructed,he added.
He said the crop production is “illegal and immoral in the view of Islam” and that Afghan officials believe they can stop it.
About 140 people attended the event from embassies,humanitarian organizations,universities and government offices,said Suzanne Wopperer,an organizer. The institute's Current Issues Briefing series will continue Feb. 18 with a discussion on Afghanistan's elections,she said.
More information about the series is at: http://www.usip.org