AREU Synthesis Paper Series
pronouncements in the West about the departure of foreign forces, and more generally by the inability of any Afghan regime over the past 40 years to survive more than a decade. Such changes were frequently remarked upon by study respondents. One male shopkeeper in rural Ghazni referred to this in terms of power or control being ephemeral:
Power is something short-lived, it doesn’t remain [in the hands of one group] foreve . In the past 30 years I have seen so many governments change.
Others talked about power being gained by force, and thus always being held by those with the upper hand militarily. This was certainly and visibly the case for many respondents in Ghazni, whose daily life is plagued by worries over which group of armed men—Taliban or ISAF—will enter their village next. In such circumstances, choosing sides can be difficult, as the following respondents explained:
We feel afraid because from one side there is the Taliban and from the othe , there are the foreign troops...If a person has a long beard then the government people will say that he belongs to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and if he is clean shaven then the Taliban will say that he belongs to the government. In this respect we are worried about our life here in Ghazni.
Male farmer, rural Ghazni
There are threats to the people from the Taliban and also from ISAF. When the Taliban come to our village or mosque, they order us to bring lunch or dinner and tea for them. The people of the area are compelled to do so. When the villagers have provided them with a meal, the Taliban leave and after they have gone ISAF and the national police come to bother and interrogate us. They accuse us of providing hospitality to Talibs and they search our homes, because they think we are hiding Taliban and that we work for them.
Male student, urban Ghazni
In rural areas there is no securit , and no-one feels safe—people fear for their own safety, for their children, their possessions, and they are scared of both the Taliban and the government. The government is telling them not to help the Taliban and the Taliban is telling them not
to take sides with the government or receive government assistance. So these people are wondering what to do. There is also the problem of foreigners, who are exploding bombs, and not allowing cars to pass their convoys. The poor population is being disturbed from every side.
Male community leader, rural Ghazni
The lack of stability described by respondents is clear: different, opposing and contradictory demands are being made by both sides, both of whom also have considerable force at their disposal to consolidate their hold on the area. According to this research (which is not representative of Ghazni Province as a whole) the Taliban do not command widespread public support—in a number of interviews, respondents described how some Taliban were unable to speak either Dari or Pashto, thus appearing almost as foreign as the ISAF forces. However, the Taliban’s rhetoric of religious and moral superiority over their Western opponents, their potential “staying power,” and the brute force and threats of punishment for disloyalty they bring to bear are currently able trump foreign promises of “democracy”—which is not in itself associated by respondents with the prospect of a more stable
This is inherently significant to the potential future of democratisation in Afghanistan, highlighting two clear lessons. Deteriorating security and a corresponding increase in the presence of foreign troops (especially when there is no clear evidence of the public in the benefit of their presence there) serves to emphasise and entrench negative views of “democracy” as an imposition from outside and contrary to the principles of Islam. Secondly, foreign presence not only provides the Taliban with a further rhetorical platform, but—in the context of an awareness of their impending withdrawal— drives people into siding with the entirely anti- democratic forces of radical Islamist groups.
One of the ways in which the desire for stability presented itself in data across all study provinces was importance people ascribed to building “national unity,” and, in doing so, avoiding a competitive politics that might further jeopardise the stability