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1/9/04 - AFGHANISTAN IN 2004 - 2004-01-09

As the year begins, hopes for greater stability and stronger democratic institutions in Afghanistan are higher than ever. On January 4th, Afghanistan's Loya Jirga [Grand Assembly] approved a new constitution. It represents, in the words of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “a milestone”:

“All of us have followed the process of watching the Afghan people with their various ethnic groups and divisions and difficulties over the decades -- civil wars, droughts, occupation -- and seeing how they have taken to this Loya Jirga process, compromised, discussed, debated, voted, and stepped forward with a constitution that offers prospects for a future for that country that I think [are] historic.”

Mr. Rumsfeld says the process shows that the people of Afghanistan are determined to establish a moderate Islamic government:

“The new constitution balances power between the branches of government, extends equal status to men and women, promotes tolerance, extends protections to minority groups, and paves the way to national elections this summer.”

The approval of a new constitution is not the only indication that Afghanistan is on the right path. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says, Afghan society is improving daily:

“Micro-businesses are flourishing. The highway linking Kandahar to the capital in Kabul is finished. Fortunately, there is strong growth with very little inflation. President [Hamid] Karzai has strengthened his leadership team. Ministry of Defense reforms have been initiated. Demobilization of militias is beginning. And, all in all, the progress is encouraging.”

Indeed, much has happened in Afghanistan in the two years since a U.S.-led coalition overthrew the repressive Taleban and its al-Qaida terrorist sponsors. As President George W. Bush says, “Afghanistan still has many challenges, but that country is making progress, and its people are a world away from the nightmare they endured under the Taleban.”