Post-Taliban Afghanistan Unveils Draft Constitution

Afghanistan (searchunveiled a post-Taliban draft constitution Monday, a historic milestone on what has been a bloody, bumpy and often tragic path to recovery after decades of war.

The constitution, which aims to unite the diverse Afghan people under democratic principles with an Islamic core -- must still be debated at a constitutional grand council, or loya jirga (search), next month. Ratification of the document will set the stage for nationwide elections scheduled for next June.

A red-bound copy of the long-awaited draft was handed to former King Mohammad Zaher Shah, President Hamid Karzai (searchand Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, during a ceremony at Kabul's Presidential Palace.

"I hope this will be acceptable for the people and will direct people toward peace, security and democracy," said the king.

The draft constitution gives the country the official name, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a sign of the government's desire to bring the country together under Islam. However, the hardline Islamic law practiced by the Taliban (search) is not expected to be a part of the new constitution.

Under the Taliban, men were forced to grow beards and pray, women were banned from schools and almost all public life, and music was forbidden.

The draft also allows political parties to be established as long as their charters "do not contradict the principles of Islam" and sets other conditions such as not having any military aims or foreign affiliation.

A variety of divisive issues -- such as determining how power will be split among branches of government, the role of the former king and the degree of Islam in the constitution -- are believed to have sparked heavy backroom negotiating between various factions, and the release of the draft constitution has been delayed several times over the past month.

The constitution, which has 12 chapters and 160 articles, was drafted by a 35-member Constitutional Review Commission that started work a year ago after two months of delays. The constitutional loya jirga has also already been pushed back two months.

After criticism that the constitution was being written in secrecy, the commission sent 460,000 questionnaires to the public and held meetings in villages across the country seeking input. Those who could not read or write -- a majority in Afghanistan -- recorded tapes stating their desires for the new constitution.

The head of the constitutional commission, Namatulluh Sharani, said Monday the commission would be seeking further public input before the loya jirga next month.

Karzai is widely expected to win next year's elections, and some of the disputes have focused on how much power will be concentrated in the presidency.

According to a statement from the constitutional commission, Afghanistan will not have a prime minister under the planned political system. Earlier drafts of the constitution envisaged a prime minister's post, and giving that post significant authority would likely have set the stage for it to be filled by a member of the ethnic Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance -- who toppled the Taliban with the help of the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition.

Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, has increasingly distanced himself from the Northern Alliance and its military commanders as he seeks to expand the influence of his central government.

"The draft is based on Islamic principles and recognizes that no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam," the commission said in a statement, adding that it also allows for freedom of religion for other faiths.