many Afghans from diaspora communities in the West, it is unsurprising that the word is so widely linked with so-called “Western” values. Again, an urban-rural divide is emphasised here, in that Kabul City has traditionally been seen by non-Kabul residents as a centre for immorality and change. However, “Western values” are often mixed or used synonymously with the idea of modernisation; it is therefore difficult to determine which are rejected absolutely as un-Islamic, and which could be accepted given time and given the departure of foreign “imperialist” forces. It is also fundamentally a question of identity, of defining what kind of modern society is considered appropriate for Afghanistan, and of who Afghans in the 21st century perceive themselves to be. This of course varies enormously between young and old, rich and poor, male and female, urban and rural, across and within ethnicities—a fact that questions in itself the very concept of a single “Afghan” identity. And yet, strongly represented in the data is a sense of Afghan-ness and unity. As Thomas Barfield points out, in spite of the many differences dividing groups within Afghanistan, there is still a sense of “nation,”96 and the argument that different ethnic groups need separate states is rarely heard.97
Finally, elections, along with the institution of parliament (and to a lesser degree, the PCs) are considered to be important and necessary as a step toward inclusivity in spite of fraud, insecurity and questions surrounding the principle of majority rule. They are not considered a foreign import, though they are perceived as susceptible to foreign interference. As such, any future elections must be accompanied by improvements in the accountability and transparency of procedures and processes. This is especially true in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections in 2010, which arguably caused serious damage to the process of democratisation in the country. Comparisons of the short-lived experience of Afghanistan’s last elected parliament in the 1960s with the current context currently offer an all too plausible vision
Barfield, Afghanistan, 278.
97 Olivier Roy, “Afghanistan: Internal Politics and Socio-Economic Dynamics and Groupings” (Paris: UN Refugee Agency, 2002).
Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan
of the future, one where electoral infrastructure collapses while an increasingly overbearing executive takes the reins of government once again.
Security and stability
One of the key messages stemming from this research is that it is not possible to establish meaningful democratisation without a basic level of security that allows people to hold differing views and express them without fear of harassment. This would seem an obvious observation, but it challenges the logic that suggests that democratisation processes can bring about security. In Afghanistan, democracy is not associated with security or stability because it has brought few improvements in these fundamental qualities over the last ten years. While international actors continue to use the rhetoric of democratisation, they are increasingly considered an imperial, invading force detached from the pursuit of peace. At the same time, powerholders within Afghanistan have also used democratisation as an opportunity to consolidate their hold on influence and resources, instilling a deep sense of distrust not only in these individuals but in the institutions that house them. Across the board there is a recognition among respondents that a democratic politics could in theory facilitate a more level playing field, but this is clearly an elusive prospect for most people in the current climate.
Furthermore, there is a widespread concern that political competition in the present environment will lead to more and not less instability. This is due to the nature of politics in Afghanistan, where the threat of violence is a viable, indeed a major, means through which to regain power and status. Nowhere is this concern more evident than in the widespread distrust of political parties. With time, this perception of competition as negative could be altered if parties are formally acknowledged as credible political actors and prove themselves as such. However, this would involve changes to the current political parties law and electoral system, alongside a willingness on the part of the president to accept political competition.
Finally, democratisation processes in Afghanistan need to be informed more substantively by the