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This perspective moves beyond the daily concerns and fears of those living in insecure areas in its focus on people feeling safe enough to participate in political processes—not a key priority for many study respondents given the current environment. It suggests that people need to be able to participate without fear of intimidation or violent consequence. Although Afghans have participated in elections over the last six years in spite of violent attacks and threats, they have done so in increasingly fewer numbers. As examined above, the threat of violence does not appear to alter the general view across all interviews that the idea of elections is positive; but it does severely affect people’s ability to prioritise participation above significantly more pressing concerns. Furthermore, as the respondent here indicates, this is not only about having enough security to participate in elections once every few years, but about instilling enough public confidence in the more general security situation to encourage interest and participation in “other political processes”—in other words, to develop a political culture. However, this cannot be established while declaring one’s political allegiances is something to be avoided at all costs for fear of violent repercussions.

5.2 Stability: The possibility of regime change and perceived threat of political competition

Whereas “security” has been interpreted above to signify security from violence or intimidation, and security to go about daily activities without interference, “stability” is used here to denote a broader sense of continuity and dependability in political, economic and social life. It signifies a situation in which the “rules of the game”—for example in credit transactions, marriage practices, or elections—are widely known and perceived to be constant. Instability, by contrast, suggests a context where such rules are perceived as unstable or fluid by those involved—essentially, where interactions become unpredictable.71 From a short-

71 This distinction was also made in a previous AREU paper on elections. See Anna Larson, “The Wolesi Jirga in Flux, 2010: Elections and Instability I” (Kabul: AREU, 2010), 4.

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

Police guard a polling centre in Kandahar during 2009’s presidential election (Photo: Canadian Embassy)

term perspective, it is possible to see the effects of instability in recent elections, or in bargaining for MPs’ votes in plenary debates, for example. No actor is certain of their support bases and cannot trust the promises of candidates, voters or MPs because there is no incentive to play by the rules when nobody else is doing so. Seen in the longer-term, however, this definition of instability applies equally to the frequency of regime change in Afghanistan over the last century. As administrations have come and gone, they have introduced ostensibly different rules with varying degrees of enforcement. These have usually been applied in different ways to different people depending on the alignment of patronage networks and deal-making occurring at any given time.

It was only toward the end of PDPA rule in the late 1980s that President Najibullah began “reconciliation” (by reneging on former revolutionary principles) with opposition groups.72 The parallel between this situation and current attempts by the Afghan Government to offer peace packages to “upset brothers” or “moderate” Taliban is clear to many Afghans, some of whom are already anticipating the fall of the Karzai era.73 This perspective is further strengthened by continued


Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (New Haven

and London: Yale University Press, 2002), 146-147.


Various interviews.


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