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  Constitution and Democracy
By Afghanland.com: The third major policy focus of the immediate post-World War II period was Shah Mahmud's experiment in greater political tolerance and liberalization. Encouraged by young, Western-educated members of the political elite, the prime minister allowed National Assembly elections that were distinctly less controlled than they had been in the past; the result was the "liberal parliament" of 1949. He tolerated the activity of opposition political groups. The most vocal of these groups was the Wikh-i-Zalmayan (Awakened Youth), a movement comprised of diverse dissident groups founded in Qandahar in 1947. A newly formed student union not only provided a forum for political debate but also produced theatrical plays critical of Islam and the monarchy. Newspapers criticized the government, and many groups began demanding a more open political system.

But the liberalization went farther than the prime minister had intended. He reacted by attempting to form a government party, and when this failed, he began cracking down. The Zahir ShahKabul University student union was dissolved in 1951; newspapers criticizing the government were closed down; many opposition leaders were jailed. The parliament that was elected in 1952 was a significant step backward from the one that had been elected in 1949. The brief experiment in open politics was over.

According to Afghanland.com sources, During Zahir Shah's term, the liberal experiment had important repercussions for the nation's political future: it provided a breeding ground for the revolutionary movement that would come to power in 1978. Future Marxist leaders of Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal, and Hafizullah Amin were all involved. The government crackdown in 1951 and 1952 that brought an abrupt end to liberalization alienated many young, reformist Afghans who had originally hoped only to improve the existing structure rather than radically transforming it.

The new government both represented and sought change. Within two months, ordered an investigation into the abysmal conditions of Afghan prisons, and reached an agreement reestablishing diplomatic and trade relations with Pakistan.

The single greatest achievement of the 1963-73 decade was the promulgation of the 1964 constitution. A mere two weeks after Daoud's resignation, the king appointed a commission to draft a new constitution. In the spring of 1964, he ordered the convening of a loya jirga a country-wide gathering that included members of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the constitutional commission. One hundred and seventy-six members were elected by the provinces and thirty-four members were appointed directly by the king. Although the assemblage of 452 persons (including six women) that met in September 1964 was composed primarily of officials who could be expected to support the royal line, the loya jirga also included members elected from around the entire nation. On September 20, the document was signed by the 452 members and ten days later, the kings signature transformed it into the new constitution.

The constitution--and the deliberations that produced it--demonstrated several noteworthy changes in political thinking. It barred the royal family, other than the king, from participating in politics and government--a provision that was perceived as keeping Daoud out of politics. Individual rights were strongly championed by provincial delegates over tribal ones. Conservative religious members were persuaded to accept provisions they once considered intolerably secular. Although a lengthy debate ensued over whether the word Afghan should be used to denote all citizens of Afghanistan (many people regarded it as a reference only to Pashtuns), the loya jirga agreed that this term should apply to all citizens. The constitution identified Islam as "the sacred religion of Afghanistan," but it was still necessary to persuade many conservative members that their religion had been enshrined in the constitution. Although Article 64 decreed that no law could be enacted that was "repugnant to the basic principles" of Islam, Article 69 defined laws as a resolution passed by the houses of parliament and signed by the king, with sharia to be used when no such law existed.

The constitution's provisions for an independent judiciary, according to afghanland.com, gave rise to heated debate among religious leaders, many of whom supported the existing legal system based on religion. Although religious judges were incorporated into the new judicial system, the supremacy of secular law was established. The new constitution provided for a constitutional monarchy, with a bicameral legislature, but predominant power remained in the hands of the king.

Most observers described the 1965 elections as remarkably fair. The 216-member Wolesi Jirgah, or the lower house of parliament, included representation not only by antiroyalists but also by the left and right of the political spectrum. Included were supporters of the king, Pashtun nationalists, entrepreneurs and industrialists, political liberals, a small group of leftists, and conservative Muslim leaders still opposed to secularization. The king nominated a new prime minister, Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who quickly established friendly relations with the students, while making it clear that he was in charge and there were limits to student political activity.

On January 1, 1965, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was founded. The PDPA, a communist party in fact if not in name, was established for the primary purpose of gaining parliamentary seats. The PDPA was comprised of a small group of men, followers of Nur Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal, both avowed Marxist-Leninists with a pro-Moscow orientation. The fact that four PDPA members won parliamentary seats suggests that government efforts to prevent the success of its leftist opponents by intervening in the balloting were halfhearted. Taraki, one of the four PDPA members elected to parliament in 1965, started the first major leftist newspaper, Khalq (Masses), which lasted little more than a month before being silenced by a government ban.

The Afghan political system remained suspended between democracy and monarchy, although it was, in reality, much closer to the latter. Political parties continued to be prohibited because the king refused to sign legislation allowing them. Democracy nevertheless maintained a toehold in the lower house of parliament where free criticism of government policies and personnel was aired.

In 1967, only a year and a half after its founding, the PDPA had split into several factions. The two most important of these were the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Taraki and the Parcham (Banner) faction headed by Karmal. Although the split was couched in ideological terms, it was largely due to personality differences between Taraki and Karmal and to their respective preferences in organizing tactics. Taraki favored a Leninist-type party based on the working class, while Karmal wanted a broad democratic front. Supporters of Khalq were primarily Pashtuns from rural Afghanistan, while Parchamis tended to be from urban areas, to come from a better socio-economic background than Khalqis. Unlike the Khalqis, Parchamis included many non-Pashtuns who spoke Dari (Persian) in their ranks.

The monarchy did not treat both factions equally. Karmal's Parcham faction was allowed to publish its own newspaper, Parcham, for more than a year (from March 1968 to July 1969) while the Khalq faction had its paper banned. As a result, Khalq accused Parcham of having connections with the king and bitterly denounced its rival as the "Royal Communist Party."

The 1969 parliamentary elections, when voter turnout was not much greater than in 1965 produced a legislative assembly essentially consistent with the real population and distribution of power in the hinterland, in that conservative landowners and businessmen predominated and many more non-Pashtuns were elected than in the previous legislature. Most of the urban liberals and all of the female delegates lost their seats. Few leftists remained in the new parliament, although Karmal and Hafizullah Amin had been elected from districts in and near Kabul. Former prime minister Maiwandwal, a democratic socialist, lost his seat when the government selectively influenced the elections.

Between 1969 and 1973, instability ruled Afghan politics. The parliament was lethargic and deadlocked. Public dissatisfaction over the unstable government prompted growing political polarization as both the left and the right began to attract more members. Still personally popular, the king nevertheless came under increasing criticism for not supporting his own prime ministers.

It was in this atmosphere of internal discontent and polarization and external shakiness that Daoud implemented the coup d'état he had been planning for a year in response to the "anarchy and the anti-national attitude of the regime." While the king was out of the country for medical treatment, Daoud and a small military group seized power in an almost bloodless coup. The stability Zahir Shah had sought through constitutionally sanctioned limited democracy had not been achieved, and was a generally favorable response greeted Daoud's reemergence even though it meant the demise of the monarchy Ahmad Shah Durrani established in 1747. Afghanland.com all rights reserved

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