Afghan Talks Adjourn, Deeply Divided on Ethnic Lines

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jan 2 17:47:53 UTC 2004

>>From the New York Times, January 2, 2004

Afghan Talks Adjourn, Deeply Divided on Ethnic Lines


     KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 1 The constitutional grand council adjourned
in disarray Thursday, leaving the entire process of drawing up a new
constitution badly damaged. The crisis has revealed a bitter struggle
between the leaders of the country, with President Hamid Karzai and his
Pashtun kinsmen on one side, and on the other the Islamist leaders and
ethnic minorities of the north, who are seeking to preserve some of their
wartime power.

Officials in the American-backed government tried to break the deadlock by
putting five amendments to the vote. But the tactic backfired when a great
number of the 502 delegates, mostly from the ethnic minorities of northern
Afghanistan, refused to vote. In the end only 264 people cast votes,
enough for a quorum, and the five amendments passed by a simple majority.

The president and his supporters got their way, but at great political
cost. Some 48 percent of the delegates did not vote and the amendments in
question were not even the most important ones. "It is a technical win but
a political loss," a Western diplomat said.  "There is a very high degree
of mistrust. It gets harder and harder to resolve."

As the boycotters sat out most of the afternoon, declining calls for
prayer and for lunch, it became clear that the three-week process to agree
on a new constitution was threatened. "Things are harder to put back
together than they were even this morning," the diplomat said. Mustafa
Etemadi, a member of the Shiite Hazara minority from Uruzgan Province,
said, "We did not go to vote because our people's desires were not

He added, "We want far-reaching democracy in this country, we want our
Parliament to have more authority." He listed the main demands of the
northern minorities. They are determined that the national anthem be in
the two languages, Dari and Pashto, rather than Pashto alone, and that the
Uzbeks be given language rights.

They are also insisting that parliamentary elections be held at the same
time as presidential elections, to avoid presidential interference.
Similarly, these minorities are calling for a constitution drafted on
consensus rather than the rule of the Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic
group and traditional rulers of Afghanistan. In interviews, delegates
revealed genuine grievances among the minorities and a strong desire for a
power-sharing agreement within the government.

"We want a strong parliament alongside the president, equal rights for men
and women, democracy among all the ethnic groups, and recognition of all
the languages of the nation," said Habiba, a teacher from Kabul and
another boycotter. "The constitution is not for one tribe or one people,"
she said. "It belongs to all the people of the country." Already angry
with government lobbying and interference, the boycotters rejected all
overtures from government officials and faction leaders.  Indeed, the
boycotters accused them of making deals at the expense of the people.

Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili, a powerful Hazara faction leader, was
shouted down, as was Yusuf Etebar, a Tajik member of the Karzai
administration. The Uzbek strongman, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, won a
hearing but ended by joining the boycott. Government and officials of the
convention, or loya jirga, blamed four or five rabble-rousers for the
disruption, accusing them of intimidating people into not voting.

The boycotters quickly selected Zalamy Yunisi, an experienced political
representative from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, to meet with
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special representative, to seek a way
out of the impasse.

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