Afghan constitution evolves


October 15, 2003

Today, Afghanistan begins electing representatives to a grand assembly - a Loya Jirga - that will meet in December to adopt a new constitution.

The Loya Jirga will have 500 members, 450 elected by voters and 50 selected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The president plans to publish a draft of the new constitution, which will be the nation's seventh, within a week.

The first constitution was signed in 1923 by Amanullah Khan, the ruler who led the fight for freedom from British control in 1919. Though the constitution was conservative and followed Islamic law, Amanullah ordered women to take off the veil, antagonizing tribal leaders.

Amanullah's constitution was made more conservative in 1931 by King Nadir Shah. His son, King Muhammad Zahir Shah, presided over a more liberal constitution, written in 1963, which provided for a constitutional monarchy and established a more secular system of law.

King Zahir was removed in a coup in 1973, and his constitution was abandoned and replaced in 1976. That constitution, unlike the others, mentioned the rights of women.

Other constitutions were written in 1987 and 1990, as governments changed during the turbulent years of war and Soviet occupation and the chaos after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The last constitution was written in 1990; when they Taliban took over, they operated without one.

King Zahir returned to Afghanistan last year from exile in Italy and was on hand in April to convene the commission writing the new draft constitution.

Translations of the constitutions can be found at the Afghanistan Web site,

Following are excerpts from some of the earlier constitutions:

- Kathy Lally

1923 Constitution

Article 1: Afghanistan is completely free and independent in the administration of its domestic and foreign affairs. All parts and areas of the country are under the authority of his majesty the king and are to be treated as a single unit without discrimination between different parts of the country.

Article 2: The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions such as Jews and Hindus residing in Afghanistan are entitled to the full protection of the state provided they do not disturb the public peace.

Article 13: Subjects of Afghanistan shall have the right to submit individual or collective petitions to government officials for the redress of acts committed by officials or others against the Sharia [religious law] or other laws of the country.

1963 Constitution

Article 1: Afghanistan is a constitutional monarchy; an independent, unitary and indivisible state. Sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation. ...

Article 21: In case the King dies before his successor has completed twenty years of life, the Queen shall act as regent until his successor reaches the stipulated age. In case the Queen be not living, the Electoral College, provided under Article 19 of this Constitution, shall elect someone from amongst the male lineal descendants of his majesty Mohammad Nadir Shah, the martyr, to act as regent.

Article 32: Afghan citizens have the right to assemble unarmed, without prior permission of the state, for the achievement of legitimate and peaceful purposes. ... Afghan citizens have the right to form political parties, in accordance with the terms of the law, provided that: 1) The aims and activities of the party and the ideas on which the organization of the party is based are not opposed to the values embodied in this constitution.

1976 Constitution

Article 2: The exercise of power by the people, the majority of whom consists of farmers, workers, the enlightened people and the youth.

Article 8: The elimination of exploitation in all its forms and manifestations.

Article 27: All the people of Afghanistan, both women and men, without discrimination and privilege, have equal rights and obligations before the law.

Article 41: Work is the right, honor and duty of every Afghan who has the capability of doing it. The major purpose of the laws that shall be promulgated to regulate work is to reach the stage in which the rights and interests of all toilers, farmers, workers and trades are protected, suitable working conditions provided, and in which relations between the worker and the employer are regulated on a just and progressive basis. The choice of work and vocation is free, within the terms determined by the law.

1987 Constitution

Article 2: The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of Afghanistan. In the Republic of Afghanistan no law shall run counter to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam and other values enshrined in this constitution.

Article 6: The National Front of the Republic of Afghanistan, as the broadest, sociopolitical organization, unites political parties, social organizations and individual members enrolled in their ranks for ensuring their active participation in the social, political and civic spheres on the basis of a common program.

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