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AREU Synthesis Paper Series

are perceived with a great deal of ambiguity and uncertainty by many of its citizens, and that its positive qualities are far from universally recognised. For many, there is a great concern that it espouses an imperial project that dictates a secular worldview and presents a challenge to people’s identity as both Afghans and Muslims. This perspective is fundamentally important to the future of the country’s democratic institutions, such as elections and a representative parliament, which, by contrast, are welcomed at least in principle by the majority of those interviewed. If the trajectory of democratisation is to last in Afghanistan, let alone contribute to political stability, it is critical to acknowledge and actively counterbalance the negative implications it holds for many Afghans.

1.2 Understandings of democracy and democratisation in the literature

There is a vast literature available on the subject of democracy and democratisation, much of it describing the varying types of democracy implemented across different countries, or setting out potential new models. These variants include liberal or Jeffersonian democracy, social democracy. deliberative democracy and many others, each offering an additional set of characteristics on top of a commitment to the rule of the people, by the people, for the people.

However, as pointed out by political analyst Fareed Zakaria, there is a general tendency to use the word democracy as synonymous with “liberal democracy”—a political system which emphasises certain liberal constitutional values such as rule or law, property rights, separation of religion and state, human rights, and economic liberalism, for example.2 Accordingly, states are judged according

to these additional criteria, they choose their leaders.3

and not just on how Evidently, some of

these liberal values, such as rule of law, represent characteristics which are universally applicable and

2 Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 1997, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/53577/ fareed-zakaria/the-rise-of-illiberal-democracy (accessed 25 April 2011).


Zakaria, “Illiberal Democracy.”


If the trajectory of democratisation is to last in Afghanistan, let alone contribute to political stability, it is critical to acknowledge and actively counterbalance the negative implications it holds for manyAfghans.

conducive to growth and development. However, this is not the case with all of them. Separation of religion and state, for example, may be appropriate and desirable in a secular society where people of different faiths co-exist; but identifying this as a determinant of “democraticness” would exclude the possibility of democracy taking root in countries where religion and statehood coincide. By the same token, promoting a liberalised economy might lead to economic growth, but it is not a prerequisite for the establishment of a democratic government in the most basic definition of the term. As such, while liberal democracy may be the most common form of democratic system in place in the twenty- first century—and the most highly valued by international institutions—there is, according to Zakaria, a need for a distinction between its liberal and its fundamentally democratic characteristics.

Another point of distinction concerns the nature of democratic participation. “Rule by the people” in and of itself does not specify exactly how the people should necessarily participate in ruling. While modern or liberal democratic institutions are for the most part centred around elections and majority rule, these are the combined result of a Greek legacy and a relatively new Western democratic culture, rather than the central tenets of democratic governance. As John Keane highlights, the institutions of “assembly democracy”—community councils not dissimilar to the shuras, jirgas and ulema councils of contemporary Afghanistan and elsewhere—existed in ancient Syria-Mesopotamia (among other places) long before the Greeks were participating in elections, and functioned according to comparable consultative principles.4 Similar institutions were adopted by early Muslims


John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (London: Simon and

Schuster, 2009), 111.

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