Democratic Challenges in Afghanistan

Implementing a democratic system in Afghanistan faces serious difficulties in uniting Afghans and in fostering good governance.

democratic-afghanistanAfghanistan has been ruled through monarchs since the establishment of modern Afghanistan by Ahmad Shah Durrani. Ahmad Shah, the first king, was chosen as King of Khorassan, the region’s name at the time, in a traditional Loya Jirga (grand council) in 1747.

Loya Jirga is a gathering of traditional and de facto leaders in Afghan society that make decisions on important national issues on consensus. Ahmad Shah’s empire encompassed modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, eastern Iran and western India.

Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973, kept Afghanistan neutral during the World Wars, and underwent steady developments towards becoming a modern nation-state. Democratic reforms were introduced turning the country to a constitutional monarchy where government affairs were run by a prime minister and an elected senate. For a time, the system worked.

The Republic of Afghanistan

Prime Minister Daud Khan, King Zahir Shah’s cousin, abolished the monarchy in 1973 announcing Afghanistan to be a republic and himself as the first President. Daud Khan had ambitious plans for democratic and economic reforms; however, he soon learned that remaining independent of Soviet influence was impossible.

Moscow supported the coups of the People Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Afghanistan’s communist party that took power in Kabul in a bloody coup in 1988. Decades of conflict continued until the Taliban rose to power in 1990s.

Modern Political System and its Challenges

The international community facilitated the establishment and election of Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Afghans have realized that government can work better only if a majority of Afghan leaders can compromise and work in unison. Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s democratic system misses this important prerequisite.

Almost all of the political ideologies are in the government as laws and policy makers, and almost all of them outside as opposition. Only Afghans living here understand how chaotic it gets when laws are debated, or MPs disagree with the executive.

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Contrary to popular belief, practicing democracy is not an alien practice to Afghans. Even in the traditional Loya Jirgas of Afghan elders and leaders, decisions were made by consensus – usually with a clear majority.

After a decade of practicing this new political system and as Afghans prepare for elections in 2014 and 2015, it would be wise for Afghans to reorganize themselves into nationally respected, inclusive political parties that have a clear vision and mission for governing their nation.

One should rule, while the other should observe the rulers. However all sides must understand that competition for power should be through the ballot box and not bullets. Otherwise, tragic historical events could be repeated.

Moheb Arsalan J. is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political, conflict, and socio-economic affairs in the Af-Pak region. He can be reached at Read other articles by Moheb.