AREU Synthesis Paper Series
after dark if necessary, getting medical attention for sick relatives, going to school or work each day, tending livestock—which are prevented or hindered by the threat of violence. These are evidently priorities, mentioned consistently in interviews in response to questions about the security situation in a respondent’s home area. Although people talked about security problems during elections which could prevent them from voting when asked specifically, no respondents highlighted elections of their own accord when asked about the security situation more generally. This could indicate that greater priorities exist, and on a daily basis. As examined above, the idea of elections is generally still considered a positive phenomenon, but participating politically is not currently a key area of concern.
The development of a political culture is unlikely as long as declaring one’s allegiances is something to be avoided at all costs for fear of violent reprocussions.
Respondents in more secure areas—for example in a “safe” district of central Nangarhar—also used their day-to-day experiences as a measure when asked about security, but with substantially different results. As one wage labourer living in a suburb of Jalalabad city put it, “life is passing very well. When it is morning, everyone goes to his work; no one bothers us.” A shopkeeper in a rural village in a relatively secure district had a similar response: “I have a very simple shop. I am busy tending it, and I manage to find a living to support my children.” Although people expressed an awareness of insecurity in other areas, or on rare occasions, in general perspectives were positive:
Security is comparatively better here than in other provinces. Some rare incidents happen, like bomb blasts and suicide attacks, which kill innocent people...The reason for these attacks is the weakness of the government. I blame those officials who are responsible for keeping security in the province. They don’t care about the security of the people and their responsibilities, therefore such bad incidents happen. Here
though the situation is fine, because everyone goes about his or her own business without the interference of others. Students go to universities and schools, those who have jobs continue their work and so on. Therefore, I can say that the general condition here is very dependable.
Female teacher, semi-urban Nangarhar
Clear from these responses is the running theme of people associating security with the freedom to go about daily activities without outside interference, whether from insurgent groups or the government. Indeed, a number of respondents talked about insecurity in other areas as the result of the government wanting to extend its control, and in the quotation above the government is blamed for an increase in insurgent attacks. This is not a new theme and reflects how since the reign of Amir Abdul Rahman in the 19th century, government interference in daily life (for example in extorting taxes, in conscription regulations or, as occurred during the later reign of King Amanullah, in the imposition of modern social values) has incited angry and often violent reactions from communities in different parts of the country.70 However, there is at the same time a simultaneous and far reaching expectation of the government not only to provide services and enforce security but also to enact laws regulating social behaviour, local decision-making and the presence of international forces. The various, all- encompassing and at times contradictory demands people have of their government thus complicate the community-state relationship, adding a further challenge to the process of democratisation.
In Kabul, respondents made a clearer and more direct link between security and democracy, as summarised in the views of one male teacher:
There should be an environment in which people can feel safe so that they can participate in elections and other political processes. Security is one of the pillars of democracy. To practice and strengthen democracy there should be first of all security.
70 Thomas Barfield, Afghanistan: (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
A Cultural and Political Press, 2010), 148, 184.