Afghanistan To Ratify Constitution

Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivers a speech during a handover ceremony of commanding force from ISAF to NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan Monday, Aug. 11, 2003. NATO took command of the 5,000-strong international peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital on Monday, a historic move that marks the alliance's first operation outside Europe since it was created 54 years ago.
Members of a marathon constitutional council scrambled to present final amendments to Afghanistan's first post-Taliban charter Monday, hours after an apparent suicide bomber killed four intelligence agents and heightened concerns about security.

The loya jirga, or grand council, is expected to ratify in the coming days a constitution putting the country under the strong presidency sought by the U.S.-backed incumbent, Hamid Karzai. But critics are still pressing after two weeks to give parliament enough power to keep the chief executive in check.

The jirga, taking place in a huge tent on a Kabul university campus, has been debating a 160-article draft constitution presented by Karzai's government last month.

A new version presented by jirga chairman Sibghatullah Mujaddedi late Sunday contains a mix of amendments apparently in response to rival demands of Islamic hard-liners and human rights advocates.

A Western diplomat said the latest draft contains no major changes to the presidential system.

Still, a passage in one key article that had said that no law could be contrary to Islam or the values of the constitution now only says legislation cannot contravene "the principles and values" of Islam.

On the other hand, the council has heeded the protests of female delegates to spell out in the constitution that both men and women enjoy equal rights.

The new basic law is supposed to underpin a state strong enough to prevent the country reverting to a haven for international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. It is also a step toward national elections next summer.

The jirga has bogged down as powerful factions leaders, most of them veterans of the 1980s resistance against Soviet occupation and the civil war that followed, contested the strongly centralized powers sought by Karzai.

Rights groups and some diplomats had expressed concern that Karzai might give too much away to religious conservatives to win support for the presidential system

Monday's debate went on even after four Afghan intelligence agents, their driver and a suspected terrorist died in a blast near the city's airport.

Police said the man detonated explosives hidden under his clothing after the agents had bundled him into a car on Sunday afternoon, killing all six and destroying the vehicle.

Police chief Baba Jan said the suspect was a foreigner, but refused to identify him further. It wasn't clear if the jirga, about 6 miles from the blast, was the intended target.

At least five rockets have been fired into the city since the jirga began, damaging several houses. Two days ago, a bomb demolished a wall outside a house where United Nations staffers were sleeping. No one has been hurt.