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respected local authorities—was widely seen to be a reliable, more “traditional” (and thus predictable) and stable method of decision making. It was also seen to be a method of dispute resolution in which the potential for conflict was minimised:

Leaders, elders and scholars gather together and they talk about problems and analyse them to find the solutions. In Pashtun areas this is the most important way of solving problems, through a jirga...Most of the decision-makers are already local leaders and they are selected by the will of the people. People are ready to accept any decision they make. They are always ready to deal with the people’s problems and they are never slow to take action about a problem.

  • Male former government worker,

semi-urban Nangarhar

Members of the village shura make decisions because they are representatives of the people. People conduct a meeting among themselves to decide who to elect as the shura members, and then they make a decision...This is a good way of solving problems because our elders talk to each other and advise each other on how to solve a problem. This way the problems never have to be taken to the government.

  • Male teacher, rural Nimroz

All the members of the village gather and they are asked which person they would agree upon to be our leade . Then the people form two or three separate smaller groups and they nominate one person per group. The one who has the most supporters is selected as the leader of the village...in selecting leaders in this wa , we ensure that there is no one better qualified to solve the problems of the village.

  • Female student, semi-urban Nangarhar

Elders and local chiefs gather in a specific location and they hear the perspectives of the two opposing sides, and after that they make a decision. Anyone who does not honour the decision is bound to pay a cash fine.

  • Male computer repairman, urban Nangarhar

The prevalence of this perspective is not wholly surprising given that variants of the consensus model have been used in some communities for many

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

generations. Indeed, this approach has been part of decision-making practices in the Muslim world for centuries—before even the advent of Islam—and thus has strong roots in Afghan social practice.79 In general, practices of decision-making across the country are fairly similar and rely heavily on a politics of consensus, in which elected or selected leaders come together to discuss an issue until an agreement is reached. Respondents for this study almost universally viewed this system of problem- solving as representative and satisfactory.

Having said this, the practice of decision-making by consensus is not necessarily a guaranteed solution to instability and unrest. Indeed, with power unilaterally vested in the hands of a group of decision-makers and no formal mechanism to remove them should the need arise, the issue of who makes up this group is all the more important:

Sometimes there can be problems, for example when a leader takes the aid money donated to the village and distributes it only among the widows and orphans that he knows rather than equally across the village.

  • Female student, semi-urban Nangarhar

The decision-makers in our village are local chiefs and elders that are all involved in bribery and other kinds of corruption. They decide about those issues which are useful for them. They just think and work for themselves. They don’t care about the people and their problems. Most of the elders and maliks [village heads] are uneducated people; therefore sometimes they make the wrong decisions. We don’t know what the future will be for us and our society...They make all the decisions to their own advantage. They don’t have any specific standards and principles for the decision-making process. They cannot solve problems correctl , because they are illiterate and don’t have awareness of Islam. They always try to expose others’ negative points, but don’t think about their own wrong-doing. They always make minor problems very big, for example like the crisis of Palestine.


Keane, Life and Death, 126-55.


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