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discussion for the time being.18 Islamists, by contrast, have adopted the state as a vehicle through which to promote an all-pervasive application of Islam through social policy and planning, for example in Iran. This has not happened in Afghanistan, however, where Islam has been used by different groups in the country as a political tool—for example in the resistance against foreign intervention during the Soviet occupation, or, in the case of the Taliban, to drive a narrow fundamentalist agenda that ignored the broader functions of state—but has not been incorporated systematically into social policy or central planning.

To date, Islamist parties in Afghanistan (such as Jamiat-i-Islami, Hizb-i-Islami and Dawat-i-Islami) have not managed to embrace the nation-state model or demonstrate clear policy goals that would see the incorporation of Islam through social and public development. However, this is more likely due to their lack of opportunity and organisational capacity, or past preference for guerrilla resistance based on traditional social networks as opposed to military engagement with the state,19 than because they are fundamentally disinterested in the influencing of state policy. A possible exception could be Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s illicit, militant branch of Hizb-i-Islami. However, even its registered, legal branch has actively sought positions in government bodies (not only those considered influential) and has taken a clear stance promoting education and development.20 In spite of these moves toward a more modernist acceptance of or engagement with the state, it is nevertheless clear in Roy’s analysis more generally that Islamist parties are not democratic.

This statement does not rule out the theoretical compatibility of Islam and democracy, however. Returning to Tilly’s framework, the central concern with breadth is essentially about inclusion and citizenship. In its ideal manifestation, all adult individuals in a state have the same status as citizens and enjoy the same rights. This is linked to the second of his criteria—equality—which in its


Roy, “Neo-Fundamentalism.”


Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, 148.


Author’s conversations (2011) with party members.

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

most positive extreme determines that ethnicity or other distinctions have no bearing on the political rights or duties of citizens.21 This coincides with the Islamic principle of Tawhid (the unity of God), which determines that while God is sovereign over all people, all under God are equal. John Esposito and John Voll take this a step further in stating that Tawhid provides the conceptual and theological foundation for an active emphasis on equality within the political system.”22 The third and fourth categories—protection from arbitrary state action and mutually binding consultation—appear to run parallel to Islamic concepts of Ijma (consensus), Shurah (consultation) and Ijtihad (independent interpretive judgement) in their emphasis on accountability.23

The issue of God’s sovereignty (as opposed, for example, to the sovereignty of “the people”) has been raised by a number of prominent scholars, such as Khaled Abou El Fadl, who argues that there is clear theoretical overlap between Islam and democracy. In emphasising the religious grounds for human agency, El Fadl explores the space for human decision-making within Islamic society:

[C]laims about God’s sovereignty assume that the divine legislative will seek to regulate all human interactions, that Shari’ah is a complete moral code that prescribes for every eventuality. But perhaps God does not seek to regulate all human affairs, and instead leaves human beings considerable latitude in regulating their own affairs as long as they observe certain standards of moral conduct, including the preservation and promotion of human dignity and well-being...God’s sovereignty provides no escape from the burdens of human agency. 24

If humans are provided with the God-given intellect and responsibility to take on “regulating


Tilly, Democracy, 14.


Esposito and Voll, Islam and Democracy, 25.


Esposito and Voll, Islam and Democracy, 25.


Khaled Abou El Fadl, “Islam and the Challenge of Democracy,”














Feldman et al, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004), 9.



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