In a first for Islamic Afghanistan, a member of the tiny Hindu minority has been appointed to a commission that will review a draft constitution for the war-torn country.

 

Businessman Leek Raj will be the first non-Muslim participant in the 35-member Scrutinising Commission, Sayed Fazl Akbar, a spokesman for US-backed President Hamid Karzai told Reuters.

   

"The idea is to have every strata of the country represented in the work of the constitution," Akbar said.

   

The commission, which already includes members of other minority groups and some women, is to canvas public opinion on a draft constitution due to be approved in October, officials said.

   

War-torn Afghanistan is preparing to
review a draft constitution.

Officials have refused to discuss what type of government the draft envisages for Afghanistan. In three decades of upheaval, the country has ranged from Soviet-style communism to a literalist interpretation of Islam under the Taliban.

 

"Hope has been created that our nation, with sincerity and honesty, can rebuild the country after the approval of the constitution," Vice President Nimatuallah Shahrani, who heads the Constitution Commission that wrote the draft, told reporters.

   

The draft is due for completion by August. It is expected to go before a Loya Jirga, the main national representative body, for approval in October.

   

Karzai was picked as president by a Loya Jirga last June to lead the country until elections due in June next year.

 

It remains unclear whether the new constitution will retain a centralised presidential system, provide a role for the monarchy overthrown in the 1970s, or opt for a strong parliament.

 

Officials say the new document will be based on a 1964 constitution that dates back to the rule of the ailing former monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah, which is viewed as relatively modernist.

 

Islamic groups insist the document should incorporate a conservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

 

Officials said the document would stress traditional Islamic values and democracy. It would also emphasize social justice, equal rights for ethnic groups and women's rights, they said.

 

Constitution commission member Professor Musaf Maroofi said the constitution would establish the rule of law.

 

"The aim of the constitution is the start of legality. People should have a link with the government on the basis of law," he said.

   

Nigel Fisher, the UN's deputy special envoy for Afghanistan, said a new constitution was one of the main pillars of the 2001 Bonn agreement that brought about the current government. He said it was aimed at uniting ethnic groups and creating stability after 23 years of war.

 

Hindus make up only a small fraction of Afghanistan's predominately Muslim population of around 25 million.