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in decision-making practices, as “mechanisms for publically monitoring and sharing power among peoples who considered each other as equals.”5 Consultation would become a key tenet of government in early Islamic society, along with institutions of self-government that arguably influenced the development of later institutions in the West.6 While representative government—along with a systematic mechanism for electing and replacing representatives—would only come with the advent of European democracies in the 17th and 18th centuries, consultative assemblies within early Muslim communities embodied the way in which the taking of power by force was considered un-Islamic.7 It is thus significant that the origins of certain modern democratic institutions were consolidated around consultation and consensus, two prominent features of the way politics is conducted in Afghanistan.

A third factor for discussion around recent literature on democracy and democratisation is their trajectory over time in different contexts. There is a commonly held assumption that “democracy” is a fixed end-state—a challenging but ultimately permanent achievement. This perception has been examined in some detail by Tilly, who claims instead that democratisation occurs along a continuum and can move in both directions—that is, that it can be equally possible for countries to de-democratise as

democratise.8 According to Tilly,

Democratisation means net movement toward broader, more equal, more protected and more binding consultation [between the state and its citizens]. De-democratisation...then means net movement toward narrower, more unequal, less protected and less binding consultation.9

For Tilly, these four characteristics of democratisation—breadth (political inclusion),


Keane, Life and Death, 128.


Keane, Life and Death, 154.


Keane, Life and Death, 144.


Tilly, Democracy.


Tilly, Democracy, 14.

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

equality between citizens, protection (“against the state’s arbitrary action”10) and mutually binding consultation—are the key tenets against which the democraticness of states can be measured.11 Evidently, there are factors or “processes” which facilitate movement in either direction, but it is possible for a state to be more or less democratic depending on its policies toward governing its citizens at any given time.

Essentially, Tilly’s key message is that democracy is contingent on the behaviour of states toward their citizens and is not static: “democratisation and de-democratisation occur continuously, with no guarantee of an end point in either direction.”12 Applying this somewhat state-centric philosophy to the Afghan case is perhaps problematic in a country where relations between state and local communities have been notoriously complex over the last century; while communities have needed the state to perform various functions, they have maintained a shifting and continually re-negotiated distance from state interference.13 This relationship is fundamentally different to the fixed, predictable and uncompromising roles of state and citizen found in Western European societies, for example. Nevertheless, Tilly’s perspective on what democracy should constitute is interesting in its encapsulation of the need for accountability and protection of citizens—two priorities that emerge in the data from Afghan respondents. His process-oriented (as opposed to events-focused) approach can be set in stark relief against international discourses of “democratisation” in Afghanistan, which have essentially comprised little more than the holding of elections.

1.3 Islam, democracy and the state

This paper does not intend to provide an academic argument on the compatibility or otherwise of Islam


Tilly, Democracy, 15.


Tilly, Democracy, 14-15.


Tilly, Democracy, 24.


Olivier Roy, The Failure






New York:

I. B. Tauris, 1994), 148.


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