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marred with fraud, ambiguity, and the suspicion of foreign interference. Negative views of election experiences were also frequently heard in respondent interviews for a later AREU study following the parliamentary election in 2010, which demonstrated how elections had served to widen the gap between citizen and state, instead of bridging it.64

4.5 Section summary

This section has explored varying meanings and perceptions of “democracy” in the Afghan context. It has focused specifically on the way the word “democracy” has often been associated with an imperial project being imposed on Afghanistan from outside; and on the perceived irreconcilable differences between Western democracy and Islam. It has also demonstrated a potential acceptance of a democracy fixed within an Islamic framework, and—critically—that elections and new democratic institutions are widely considered important as the building blocks of accountable government in Afghanistan. However, these are being progressively discredited as a result of fraudulent and non-transparent processes.

As such, it is possible to outline several key concerns and expectations expressed by study respondents across all six provinces regarding their government:

  • That above all else, the system of governing

in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned and

64 Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, “Undermining Representative Governance: Afghanistan’s 2010 Parliamentary Election and its Alienating Impact” (Kabul: AREU, 2011).

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

should not be perceived as primarily reflecting the political interests of foreign countries.

  • That there should be a certain level of “freedom” accessible to all, including women, but that this should be defined within an “Islamic framework.” There is a further implication, however—particularly among female respondents—that this framework needs to be more clearly defined to prevent it from falling prey to extremist, uneducated interpretations.

  • That elections, along with the institution of parliament (and to a lesser degree, the PCs), are considered to be important and necessary as a step toward inclusivity. They are not considered a foreign import, but are perceived as susceptible to fraud and foreign interference.

Evidently these key findings are problematic and leave many questions unanswered: the concept of an “Islamic framework” remains indistinct, and the crucial issue of the acceptable role of women in society is far from being resolved. And how these trends might be adopted into the formation of a government that truly reflects the will of the Afghan people is another question entirely. For now, however, it is necessary to keep these overarching themes in mind when considering another critical factor affecting the future of democratisation in Afghanistan: that of security and stability.


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