Who has the power in Afghanistan?
That question is key to promoting unity and ending the insurgency.
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Of course, Afghanistan's experience with constitutional democracy is young, and these complicated questions take time to settle. So how critical is this? Without agreement on how to settle the most fundamental disputes concerning the separation of powers, the entire constitutional system is falling apart.Skip to next paragraph
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Consider a 2007 case: Parliament acted to dismiss Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta through a no-confidence vote, but the president disputed the legality of the vote and asked the Supreme Court to rule.
When the court sided with Karzai, Parliament balked, saying that the Court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Karzai ignored Parliament's objections and kept Mr. Spanta, who continues as Afghanistan's top diplomat and often executes agreements on behalf of the country.
But Parliament views Spanta as illegitimate and refuses to be bound by agreements he signs. Last week it reiterated this position, just as Spanta headed to Washington for top-level strategic reviews of the war in Afghanistan. As a result of the Spanta dispute, relations among the three branches have deteriorated to a state of near-paralysis.
The current crisis may be resolved through political compromise, but that won't address the underlying issue. There may, however, be a way to address these two problems with a single solution. Karzai, the chief justice, and parliamentary leaders should begin intensive discussions to hammer out a compromise.
An agreement could provide a way through the electoral crisis as well as settling the larger question of which body, the Supreme Court or a new Commission on Constitutional Implementation, will have the authority to interpret the Constitution and in what circumstances. Exactly how the power is divided is not the crucial issue. What really matters is that the three branches reach agreement on who has the power to issue binding constitutional decisions and that they accept those decisions.
The ability to channel conflict into the political process, rather than through war, is the test of any constitutional system. In Afghanistan the stakes are especially high, as the stability and legitimacy of the Afghan government is ultimately the greatest weapon against the insurgency.
John Dempsey is director of the Kabul office of the US Institute of Peace. J Alexander Thier is senior rule of law adviser at the US Institute of Peace and editor of the book, "The Future of Afghanistan."