Afghanistan’s Post-Taliban Constitution: “Most Enlightened” but Inappropriate?

-Dr. M. Nazif Shahrani-

As a multiethnic post-colonial buffer nation-state, Afghanistan was ruled over by autocratic centralizing monarchic regimes for nearly a century following its creation in late 19th century. Extant ethnic and tribal differences gradually transformed into articulated forms of social fragmentation due to discriminatory nationalizing policies of the failing state leading to Khlaq-Parcham Communist revolution, Soviet occupation, Jihadi resistance, and proxy wars culminating to the rise of Taliban and Talibanism in mid-1990. After defeat of the Taliban regime, the most crucial challenge facing Afghan leadership and their international patrons was stabilizing a seriously divided Afghan society following three decades of conflict and violence, much of it within the country. One of the most promising means for responding to this important challenge was the opportunity for designing/formulating an appropriate constitutional framework for post-Taliban Afghanistan as it was mandated by the Bonn Accords of December 2001. Upon ratification by acclamation (not a vote of the Constitutional Assembly of 502 delegates) Afghanistan’s new Constitution was promulgated by Hamid Karzai on December 5, 2004, and it was immediately lauded by its framers and international sponsors as “the most enlightened in the Islamic world”, a “milestone along the political process”, and deemed an essential part of establishing Afghanistan’s political future as a stable democracy in this troubled part of the world. Much to the disappointment of the peoples of Afghanistan and growing concern of the international community who closely supervised and supported the Constitution-making processes, five years later the post-Taliban Constitution has produced a kleptocracy fueling a powerful resurgence of the Taliban. This presentation, while taking note of what may be “enlightened” about this Constitution, will question the appropriateness of the charter in light of Afghanistan ’s troubled history and political culture. The role of Afghanistan ’s various post-Taliban ruling elites and those of their national and international supporters in crafting this inappropriate Constitution–filled with “integrationist” and “accommodationist” tensions–to address the conflicting needs of seriously divided national and international constituencies will be also discussed.

Dr. Shahrani was born, raised and partly educated in Afghanistan after which he went on to receive his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Washington. Currently, he is Chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University where he has also served as Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program. He frequently visits Afghanistan.

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