AREU Synthesis Paper Series
7.1 Trends in the data: What do Afghans want from a political system?
The three principal categories or priorities that stand out throughout the data in all six provinces studied are ownership,95 security and stability, and equality. It should be noted that all of the priorities raised by respondents in these three areas would be difficult principles to implement and integrate into a functioning democratic system in a secure environment. In a place where ongoing conflict threatens to undermine all trust in the current system and the term “democracy” has been widely stigmatised, the challenges of doing so are clearly multiplied. With this in mind, this section will attempt to summarise some of the main findings from this research in terms of respondents’ own priorities for the future of democratic institutions in Afghanistan.
ReconcilingAfghan “ownership” with the widely-held international perspective that enshrines liberal values as part and parcel of democratic institutions is evidently problematic. For many promoting democracy and democratisation in Afghanistan, it is not possible to separate “Western” and “Islamic” democracy. However, this paper argues that there is no way that democratic institutions will survive in Afghanistan unless their scope and remit are considered by Afghans to coincide with Islamic principles and a fundamentally national, Afghan character. The current narrative of imposition and outside interference is pervasive and damaging, and must be countered. Again, this is no simple matter; as the data above shows, there is little
This term has not been used up to this point in this paper due to its
vague connotations and the way in which is has become a “buzzword”
the development and used here reluctantly,
international community in Afghanistan. in inverted commas, because it seems
summarise concerns about democracy as an imperial well. Its limitations are however duly acknowledged.
consensus on what Islamic principles and “Afghan culture” actually constitute. Nevertheless, there are certain common themes across the perspectives gathered for this research—reflecting key concerns among Afghans from different locations and backgrounds—that must be addressed.
First, that Afghanistan’s political system should be established as its own, involving an actual and perceived decrease in the extent of foreign influence. This is highly problematic for a number of reasons, including Afghanistan’s aid- dependency and its 20th century history of reliance on deals with neighbouring and other countries to generate income. Furthermore, the kind of political system needed to facilitate the equal access to decision-making and resources desired by so many respondents for this study might not be one that has been implemented in Afghanistan before. Indeed, the concept of an equal citizenship in the country is—in certain respects at least—nothing short of revolutionary. This being the case, perhaps an entirely different, more devolved political system is unavoidable. While concerns about warlordism and the rise in influence of regional commanders prompted those involved in the Bonn Process to opt for a highly centralised system, this in itself promotes the patronage and power- grabbing that deny equal access to resources. For many, these contradictions remain undistinguished and need to be explored by Afghan intellectuals and decision-makers in more depth. Nevertheless, one way to improve a sense of ownership over the system as it currently stands would be to introduce more opportunities for public participation—in elections for governorship positions, for example, which are currently determined by presidential appointment.
The second issue of “ownership” emerging from the data concerns the stated distaste among respondents for “Western culture” and the potential threat it poses to “Afghan culture,” traditional norms or values and an Islamic identity. With the fall of the Taliban and introduction of “democracy” coinciding with an influx of media access and the return of