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1/14/04 - AFGHANISTAN MOVES FORWARD - 2004-01-14

The Afghan people have expressed their commitment to a free and democratic country. They defied the remnants of the ousted Taleban regime and al-Qaida terrorists, and participated in electing delegates to the loya jirga, the Afghan national council. Extremists had tried to intimidate candidates and voters. They failed.

The five-hundred-two members of the loya jirga have approved a new constitution. The approval came after three weeks of meetings, debates, and compromise.

Under the new constitution, Afghanistan will have a directly elected president, two vice-presidents, and a two-chamber national assembly. Elections for the presidency are tentatively scheduled for June 2004, and the new constitution says that “every effort shall be made” to elect the national assembly at the same time.

Afghan women were given equal rights with men and guaranteed seats in the assembly. The constitution also outlaws the formation of political parties solely on the basis of ethnic, religious, or geographic identity.

As U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says, the new Afghan constitution “represents a truly significant milestone in that country’s path [toward] a moderate, democratic society”:

“Americans and certainly the thirty-eight other nations that are part of the coalition in Afghanistan can be rightly proud of the Afghan people; of the leadership of President [Hamid] Karzai and his administration; of the role of the United States in this process and the coalition countries in creating an environment where that can happen, military and civilian leadership, and in the achievements that have been accomplished by the Afghan people."

“After the suffering of the past twenty years, ordinary people of Afghanistan want their country to work,” says U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. “By adopting a sound constitution through an orderly and transparent process, Afghans have cleared a major hurdle.”