The constitution making process, which has been elusive for the last eight years, was back in the spotlight once again earlier this week thanks to the government’s decision to solicit public opinion on the draft copy.
The frenzied excitement seen during the process was a reminiscent of a similar scene witnessed in 2003 in another South Asian conflict hit nation, Afghanistan. Over a decade later, little has changed for the war ravaged country. When Nepal was busy gathering public opinions, Afghanistan reported killings of 10 of its soldiers in a mistaken American air strike. It didn’t come as much of a surprise though. News of such violence have become an everyday affair.
The current state of affairs in Afghanistan is an example showing how the constitution is not the answer to all of the country’s problems. Throughout it’s modern history, Afghanistan has seen eight constitutions, beginning from 1923. They have been drafted by leaders/groups following ideologies of one extreme to another; from democratic leaders such as Amanullah Khan and King Zahir, who made genuine efforts for modernization to the conservative Talibans. The Afghan constitution has had different elements in all of its constitution. While some promoted radical Islamism and conservative measures, others were liberal, promoting Constitutional Monarchism and even Western values of parliamentary democracy.
Despite having a brush with such wide variety of constitutions, Afghanistan continues to be plagued by a never ending war coupled with political upheaval and foreign interference. Today, the country stands at the second position of Global Terrorism Index (GTI) and almost at bottom positions in terms of social indicators. So, what is the reason? The country’s current plight has been brought about mainly due to the foreign interference and inner fighting. Coups, assassinations and deceptions have been common throughout its modern history, one of the latest and the most prominent ones being the outthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1973 which brought an end to monarchy. Thanks to its weak political base, it was embroiled in the cold war post 1970s which further exacerbated the situation.
Perhaps another country that provides an example on how the constitution can sometimes be futile is Haiti. One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti’s misfortune has been caused largely by its political turmoil along with natural disasters. What has truly been remarkable about the country is the number of constitutions that have been drafted throughout it’s history. This small Caribbean nation has had a total of 23 constitutions since 1801. Interestingly, along with US, it was one of the first countries in the world to adopt a written constitution. But while the US went on to become a symbol of liberal democracy, Haiti trod a rather different path.
Despite being drafted by numerous rulers, the problem with Haiti’s constitutions was the lack of checks and balances. They either promoted military rule, hereditary monarchy or forms of benign dictatorship, the latest ones being the draconian rule of father – son duo François Duvalier his son Jean-Claude Duvalier. Alas, a defunct system, massive corruption, and a writhing country was the legacy left by most of the leaders. In recent developments, hit by a disastrous earthquake five years back, the country is yet to get back into its original shape thanks to the still existing political impasse. Much of the $13.5 billion received in the name of humanitarian aid has been allegedly appropriated by leaders and more than 80,000 still live in tarpaulin tents.
Afghanistan and Haiti are two different countries with completely different backgrounds. But both hold the same lessons for Nepal; that constitution is not the ultimate answer. One might argue that the context in which the constitution was/is being drafted in all these three countries is different. But one thing is for sure: just like the constitutions did not guarantee stability in both these countries, we have no guarantee that the new constitution will bring prosperity for Nepal. For countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Haiti where geo-politics plays a vital role, stability and prosperity does not rest entirely upon a mere constitution but many other factors.