Delegates Protest Changes in Constitution

Some from the north who participated in drafting the document accuse the president of altering their work.

Delegates Protest Changes in Constitution

Some from the north who participated in drafting the document accuse the president of altering their work.

More than 50 former delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga have fired off letters to President Hamed Karzai, other Afghan officials and the United Nations complaining about changes that have been made in the document since they approved it in January.

According to Hedayatullah Hedayat, from Faryab Province, he and other Loya Jirga delegates have raised objections to 19 changes that were quietly made to the new constitution.

In particular, they are upset by changes to Article 16, which they say would place restrictions on speakers of Uzbeki, Turkmeni, Baluchi and other minority languages, and to Article 50, which they claim would allow the president broad latitude to reform the country's administrative system without authorisation by the national assembly.

Engineer Ahmad, a delegate from Jowzjan Province, said the manner in which the changes were made - after the Loya Jirga had adjourned and without public discussion or comment - sets a dangerous precedent and could undermine Afghans' faith in their fledgling government.

"The changes that have been brought to the Constitution after our approval make a mockery of the public will," he said.

Jawad Luddin, the spokesman for Karzai, dismissed the delegates' complaints. "There aren't any changes in the meaning of the Constitution," he said, declining further comment. He said any other questions should be directed to Farouq Wardak, the former head of the constitutional secretariat.

Most delegates and observers agree that the changes themselves are not significant. But what angers them is the manner in which they were made.

"Approximately 20 million US dollars [were] spent from the delegates' election to the end of the Loya Jirga,"Ahmad said. "If Karzai had this authority to [make] changes [to] the constitution after the approval of the people's representatives, then why did they spend so much money for the election of delegates and the Loya Jirga process? They could use this money for reconstruction."

Fayaz Mehrain, an analyst and commentator in Mazar-e-Sharif, said that no single individual, no matter how powerful, should have the right to alter the law after it has been approved.

"These changes not only damage the legitimacy of the law, but also the legitimacy of the government, the administration and the authority of the president," he said.

According to Mohammad Mehdi Tawana, a delegate from Mazar, many of the delegates are upset by changes made in Article 16, which deals with language rights and designates Dari and Pashtu, the two languages most commonly spoken in Afghanistan, as the country's official tongues.

According to these delegates, the sentence "the scientific and administrative national current terms will be kept" was inserted into this article in the document signed by Karzai, although it did not appear in the final draft distributed to delegates on January 4.

The change would require speakers of Afghanistan's many languages to refer to scientific and national terms and titles only in one of the country's two official languages, usually Pashtu. Ahmad charges that this will prevent minority languages from developing and lead to favoritism of one language.

These delegates also object to the removal of the phrase "after authorisation of the national assembly" from Article 50. This article requires the government to "adopt necessary measures for creation of a strong and sound administration and realisation of reforms in the administrative system of the country".

"With the removal of these words from Article 50, they wanted to increase the authority of the president and decrease the authority of the representatives of the people," said Ahmad.

Not all the delegates from the northern provinces are concerned by the changes. Dr Nadera Hayat Burhani, a delegate from Balkh, said she was not worried about the modifications and accused the protesting delegates of seeking to defame Karzai in advance of the presidential elections in September.

But Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, another northern delegate, said that the changes to the constitution are more serious than simply altering a few words.

"Who has given this authority to Karzai and the constitutional commission to add things into the constitution?" he asked.

"Five hundred and two delegates from different parts of the country, representing the people, were involved in 23 days of internal arguments during the Loya Jirga with the support of the UN and the international community," he said. "Only these people had the authority to bring changes. Does Karzai have more authority than all of them?"

Qayoum Baabak is an independent journalist with IWPR in Mazar-e-Sharif; Qais Faqiri is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif. Mohammed Jawad Sharifzada, an independent reporter with IWPR in Kabul, also contributed to this report.

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