A 502-delegate loya jirga convened in Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 14, 2003, to consider the proposed Afghan Constitution. Originally planned to last ten days, the assembly did not endorse the charter until January 4, 2004. As has been generally the case with these assemblies, the endorsement came by way of consensus rather than a vote. Afghanistan's last constitution was drafted for the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in November 1987. Because of strife within the assembly, the 2003 Loya jirga was dubbed, by some Afghans, the "loya jagra" ("big fight"). The U.S. held the power of veto over the entire document.
Issues involving substantial debate included whether Dari or Pashto should be the official language, whether former king Mohammed Zahir Shah should maintain the title "father of the nation," how to address women's rights, whether Afghanistan should be a free market economy, and whether higher education should be free.
The most pressing issue, however, was the question of centralized power. Interim President Hamid Karzai supported a constitution draft outlining a strong president and stated that he would not run for the office in 2004 if the draft was not approved. Members of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance accused Karzai of buying off opponents with promises of influential positions in a post-election government. On January 1, the loya jirga broke down when close to half of the assembly, consisting mostly of Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara and Turkmen minorities, boycotted the first and only ballot, forcing chairman Sibghatullah Mojadedi to call for a 2-day adjourning.
Election of chairman, controversy
The Loya jirga convened beneath a large tent on the grounds of a Soviet-built university. In the opening ceremonies of December 14, former king Mohammad Zahir Shah addressed the assembly after a dozen children in diverse ethnic outfits, waved Afghan flags, and sang songs of peace, which included verses such as "We are doves, waiting for peace, we are tired of fighting." Later that day in a second vote, Mojadedi was elected the chairman by a majority vote of 252. Hafiz Mansour had garnered only 154 votes (not a majority) in the first vote.
The election of Mojadedi as chairman produced outrage from many of the 114 female delegates. To appease their concerns, Mojadedi selected Safia Sediqi for the fourth deputy position, and he named two other women as deputy's assistants, but the move did not pacify the women. Also that day, claiming the support of 241 delegates, the Northern Alliance demanded that 50 delegates picked by Karzai be denied voting rights; however Mojadedi rejected the idea.
Some government and supreme court officials, as well as members of legal and human rights commissions, were allowed to attend but only allowed to participate when asked for their opinions by an elected delegate. Provincial governors and top-ranking police, administration and military officials were barred from the proceedings.
On the third day, Malalai Joya, a female delegate from Farah province was temporarily thrown out when she complained that the same warlords of the past would still be in charge of the new government. Her microphone was turned off when she suggested that some of the leaders should be tried in an international court. She remained under U.N. protection for a number of days because of death threats.
Some delegates, such as Abdolkabir Ranjber complained that the process had no specific criteria. Delegates were not properly prepared or educated about the issues.
The selection process for the loya jirga began July 16, 2003 when president Karzai issued a decree calling for 500 delegates. 344 delegates were elected by 15,000 district representatives who were chosen in the May 2002 loya jirga. 64 female delegates were chosen by Afghan women. 42 delegates represented refugees, nomads, displaced people, minorities (Hindu and Sikh). 50 delegates were appointed by Karzai.
- Kabir Ranjbar, head of Afghan Lawyers Association
- Afghans agree on new constitution (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3366455.stm); BBC; 4 January 2004.