AREU Synthesis Paper Series
Nimroz is situated on the border with Iran and is the site of considerable repatriation of Afghan refugees returning home. Many residents of Nimroz have spent a significant amount of time in Iran or move back and forth between the two countries. As such, they have sometimes had the good fortune to
experience schooling there,55
or have at least seen
the way a different, higher capacity Islamic state functions. A cultural as well as geographic proximity exists and has facilitated a certain fluidity of customs and practices across the border. Furthermore, respondents talked about being able to go about their lives in Iran according to their own [Afghan] norms and traditions. One woman from Ghazni, who had also spent time in Iran, talked about a similar experience during time spent living there:
Democracy must be according to the culture of the people...When we were in Iran, we were wearing clothes according to our tradition and we were going about our everyday business according to our customs and culture. This was acceptable to us.
Housewife, semi-urban Ghazni
The respondent implies that she was able to adopt a lifestyle similar to the one she was accustomed to in Afghanistan, and appreciated the choice that allowed her to do so. In Nimroz, where a greater concentration of people have lived in Iran for considerable periods of time, it is likely that this factor could have affected the data across a wide spectrum of respondents. While not all perspectives of Iran were positive (for example in terms of its treatment of Afghans within its borders, or its perceived interference in Afghan politics), people’s experiences of living there have nonetheless had a clear impact on their opinions and outlook
The second potentially contributing variable is the lack of foreign troops in Nimroz. There are very few foreigners in general working in the province, which also has a limited UN and NGO presence. While neighbouring Helmand has been the location of sustained international military presence for a number of years, the effects of this presence do not
Good fortune: due to the fact that in many cases schooling
denied to Afghan refugees in Iran due to their second-class status.
appear in respondent perspectives in and around Zaranj, on the province’s Western border. This in itself is important, and could contribute to the way, for example, the attacks of suicide bomber and insurgent activity in general are described with great hatred for the perpetrators, rather than sympathy for their cause. For example, when discussing the case of Gul Makai—a PC member who was killed in a recent attack on the governor’s residence in Zaranj City—respondents without exception used the prefix shahid (martyr):
The previous members of the PC didn’t do anything for the people, only Gul Makai was good— she loved the country and she worked for marginalised people in societ , but the enemies of Afghanistan made her a marty .
Male 11th grade student, rural Nimroz
Makai is seen as a hero, the victim of hateful insurgent attacks and certainly not as deserving of her fate for having worked in the government. This serves as a dramatic contrast to other study provinces—even including relatively secure ones, such as Balkh—where respondents frequently blame insecurity on foreign troops, associating their presence to varying degrees with the Western “invasion” of Afghanistan and the imposition of Western values and culture. For the residents of Nimroz, talk of the advent of a democratic regime does not appear to represent an immediate challenge to one’s identity as Afghan or Muslim—and is not automatically opposed or set in stark relief against the tenets of an Islamic society.
and the charchaokat-i-Islam
With the exception of Nimroz, most interviews conducted for the study suggested a very clear dividing line between “Western” and “Islamic” democracy. This follows on from the discussion above concerning the perceptions of cultural imperialism and the concern about the spread of Western, secular values. Against this context, the divisions made by respondents between the two kinds of democracy appeared, on the surface at least, to indicate an irreconcilable binary opposition: