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Afghanistan eyes Swiss constitutional model

Karzai asked for Swiss help earlier this year

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss officials have returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan to explore whether Switzerland could help the fledgling nation draft its new constitution.

The visit followed an approach to the Swiss government earlier this year by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

The mission came ahead of a conference in Rome last week when 30 countries, including Switzerland, continued discussions on reforming Afghan society and its institutions.

Afghanistan has until the end of 2003 to have its new charter in place. Karzai is expected to decide early next year whether to use Swiss expertise to draft the new constitution.

Urs Beer of the foreign ministry's peace policy unit, who was part of the team that travelled last week to Kabul, told swissinfo that structuring a new constitutional process posed a major challenge.

He said there were a number of fundamental issues that needed to be resolved along the way to a new constitution.

System of government

Foremost would be the need to choose between a parliamentary or presidential system, and to decide the relationship of central government with the provinces.

"Afghanistan today is a highly decentralised country and there is a lack of unity," he said.

Beer added that Afghanistan would also have to consider how the country would be governed at both a provincial and national level, and whether to make any explicit references to religious persuasions in the draft document.

Beer was careful to stress that all these decisions had to be taken by the Afghans themselves. "Foreigners cannot give support there because they are political decisions," he said.

Federalism

And he doubted whether Afghanistan would benefit from a federal government similar to Switzerland's.

"The federal system would - at least at the moment - not work. Maybe once the country is more stable and more established, one could think about giving more power back to the provinces."

"The difference is probably that Switzerland has had the time to grow historically and we've had a long process of centralisation. Afghanistan does not have the same opportunities, nor so much time," he added.

However, Beer revealed that Karzai had expressed a particular interest in how Switzerland had decentralised power, especially in the field of social services.

"In this area, it is not going to be possible for the capital to know the needs of people far away - it makes sense to have local autonomy."

Aid conference

At a meeting of the International Afghanistan Support Group in Norway earlier this week, the Swiss government announced that it was increasing aid to Kabul to SFr35 million ($24.5 million) over two years.

Switzerland has already donated SFr18 million towards rebuilding the shattered country.

Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, who led the Swiss delegation, expressed concern that the absence of political stability across the whole country was hampering international aid efforts.

He said that dispersing aid beyond the capital remained problematic because of tensions among rival Afghan warlords.

"We all know the security situation does not allow [aid to reach the provinces]. Afghanistan needs national security," he said.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

In brief

Afghanistan informally asked Switzerland if it want to help Kabul draft its new constitution earlier this year.

Foreign ministry officials flew to Kabul a fortnight ago to evaluate how they might help.

Karzai will decide next year whether to use Swiss expertise to draft the document.

The Swiss government has promised aid totalling SFr35 million over two years to the country.

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