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Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

4. Democracy as an Imported Concept

One of the most common themes cutting across interviews in all provinces and across the demographic spectrum was the idea that the word and system of “democracy” was not indigenous to Afghanistan and had been introduced from outside. For some, democracy was altogether alien and unwelcome; for others, it was a Western system that could potentially be moulded to the Afghan context, given certain modifications. This first section on the findings from the study explores these differences in detail. It looks at varying perceptions of imported democracy—as an imperial project; as inherently different to “Islamic democracy”; as freedom—and how it might be contained within the charchaokat-i-Islam (the “four fixed edges of Islam,” or an Islamic framework); and as an international standard of rule of law and development that had not been achieved in Afghanistan. It also looks at elections, which were one aspect of democracy not seen as negatively foreign and widely considered as positive mechanisms for public participation.

4.1 A new tyranny? Perceptions of democracy as hegemonic imperialism

A view which varied in intensity across the different provinces selected for this study, though particularly noticeable in Nangarhar and Ghazni, was that democracy had been brought to Afghanistan to serve the greater political goals of foreign countries. Thus, while the idea of selecting government by popular election is acceptable across the board, a widespread and deep-seated suspicion of the word “democracy” is still very much present in certain areas:

I think democracy is good for the Afghan government but...we don’t want government which is in others’ hands. We don’t want democracy which is applied by foreigners.

  • Male teacher, urban Ghazni

During the war with Russia the mujahiddin preached against democracy, so people hate it.

  • Female teacher, urban Ghazni

Democracy is a Greek word—“demo” means people and “cracy” means chair or government. In democracy all the people take part in making decisions about whatever happens in the country, for example in politics, society, education and the military...The government should be chosen by the people, and not by outsiders. At the moment the president is chosen by them but we can’t say anything.

  • Female beautician, urban Ghazni

Democracy is the government of the people by the people for the people, but in Afghanistan we have the government of the outsiders by the outsiders for the Afghan people. The actual definition is reversed in Afghanistan.

  • Male student, urban Balkh

Afghanistan is under the control of others; our president himself is under the control of others. How can it then be a democracy here? It is just a ridiculing of democracy.

  • Male unemployed former driver,

semi-urban Nangarhar

In the Afghan constitution it is the duty of the government to promote and implement democracy. So democracy within the limits of our constitution is acceptable to Afghans. Capital punishment is a legal act according to our laws and court decisions. But as we see in the media some international organisations want to prevent execution, and this is a clear interference in our internal affairs. Our request from the international community is that they should let us implement our own laws. We respect the kind of democracy which is according to our law and we will struggle to promote this.

  • Male PC member, urban Nangarhar

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