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U.S. Praises New Afghan Constitution

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2004 – Delegates to Afghanistan's Loya Jirga agreed on a new, democratic constitution for the nation Jan. 4.

The agreement came after more than three weeks of "robust" debate that "thoroughly considered all aspects of the draft" and led to a "genuine political process," said a State Department spokesman. The Loya Jirga began debate on the draft constitution Dec. 14.

President Bush congratulated the people of Afghanistan on the adoption of their new constitution. "This document lays the foundation for democratic institutions and provides a framework for national elections in 2004," Bush said in a written statement released by the White House. "A democratic Afghanistan will serve the interests and just aspirations of all of the Afghan people and help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land."

The Loya Jirga is the Afghan way of hashing out affairs. It is a Pashtu phrase that roughly translates to "grand council." For the draft constitution, the Loya Jirga consisted of 502 delegates including 114 women from all ethnic groups in the country. The council includes Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. The council also included historically neglected minorities such as refugees, Hindus, Sikhs and nomads.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad called the agreement on the new constitution a "significant milestone" on the country's path to democracy. "You have sent a strong message to the rest of the world that all the people of Afghanistan are committed to a moderate, democratic state and society," Khalilzad said.

The constitution calls for a strong president, balanced by a strong legislature and all checked by an independent judicial branch. The new constitution refers to the country as an Islamic state, but Islamic Sharia law is not specifically mentioned in the document, and the rights of minorities are respected.

The new constitution paves the way for elections in June. Voters will elect a president and two vice presidents. The original version of the draft called for a prime minister, but that was dropped in the Loya Jirga deliberations.

Pashtu and Dari are the two official languages of Afghanistan.

There are 11,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, and 5,000 more troops are there as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. The troops will provide security and stability so the constitutional process can go forward.

Coalition forces continue to seek out al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in Afghanistan. A tape broadcast on the Al Jazeera network is "likely the voice of Osama bin Laden," said CIA officials. The tape refers to the U.S. capture of Saddam Hussein Dec. 13.

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