Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga Postponed

An historic gathering to ratify a new constitution for this war-ravaged country has been delayed for several days to give delegates time to reach the capital, a constitutional council spokesman said Tuesday.

The government had planned the loya jirga (search— or grand council — to start Wednesday, but spokesman Farooq Wardak said that would not be possible.

"The delegates need more time to get here," he told The Associated Press. He said the meeting would start Saturday, with addresses from former king Mohammad Zaher Shah and President Hamid Karzai (search).

Wardak said pre-council meetings have already begun, and some of the 500 delegates — elected in local meeting from each of Afghanistan's 32 provinces — were already trickling into the capital.

Security is a great concern for the gathering, to be held in northwest Kabul (search) at an enormous tent, according to Afghan tradition. A bomb exploded Nov. 22 outside the capital's Intercontinental Hotel, the site of the press center for the loya jirga.

The capital, patrolled by a 5,000-strong international peacekeeping force, has been an island of relative stability, but Taliban rebels and their Al Qaeda allies have been launching increasingly violent attacks in the south and east of the country.

The 50-page draft constitution was unveiled Nov. 3 after a year of work and many delays. It envisions an Islamic republic with a powerful presidency and a bicameral legislature. The president would be commander in chief of the military, appoint one-third of the legislature's upper house and name judges, military officers, police and national security officials.

It also guarantees a role for women in running the country and enshrines their right to an education. The former Taliban regime imposed a harsh version of Islamic law and banished girls and women from schools and public life.

The grand council is open ended, though Wardak said they were hoping to wrap things up in about 10 days. The delegates will be allowed to approve amendments.

Ratification of the constitution will pave the way for national elections scheduled for June but also likely to be delayed by a month or two.