Democracy and the Failure of Leadership in Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Afghanistan' started by Shaukat Zamani, Jul 7, 2010.

  1. Shaukat Zamani

    Shaukat Zamani Rookie

    Jun 14, 2010
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    Shaukat Zamani

    July 2, 2010

    This may not sound as an ideal time to write about the notion of democracy in Afghanistan.

    Firstly, the controversies surrounding the August 2009 Presidential elections in Afghanistan marked the first real exposure of our democratic experiment as an aberration; rather as a farce.

    Secondly, the intensification of the proxy war efforts by our neighbours to claim a larger share of the Afghan pie constitutes a threat to whatever that remains of the Afghan democracy today.

    Yet, thirdly, it is the American and Western rush to look for a quick exit strategy that casts the deepest shadow of doubt over the horizons of the very experiment of democracy in Afghanistan.

    There now is a dramatic and tragic shift in Western thinking. As the idea of quitting Afghanistan gains momentum, the new buzzword dominating Western policy thinking vis-à-vis Afghanistan seems to be Afghan “stability”, as opposed to Afghan democracy. The only real Western concern now is to ensure Afghanistan no longer remains a terrorist launching pad.

    As Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, recently puts it, “Nation-building would be the Afghans' problem, not ours.”

    Robinson is dead right. Afghanistan is our country, and only Afghans themselves are truly responsible for building our country and establishing a truly lasting democratic culture in our society.

    I am not at all surprised by the lack of continuation of Western commitment to the Afghan democratic experiment. The clock was always ticking. The writing has been on the wall since, at least, late 2009. We Afghans have consistently failed to live up to our end of the bargain. We failed to build in any meaningful sense the very institutions that will safeguard our delicate democratic experiment.

    We assumed that we had for ever to build what, for me, is the biggest and most important asset in our long, glorious history, our current institution of democracy.

    Our lack of effort and our very concept of time have let us down. Some of us stopped trying for selfish reasons, because of an obsession to conserve power by any means possible. Some simply found the temptation to jump on the politics-as-the-easiest-way-to-make-money bandwagon too much to resist. Others who cared, the civil society, didn’t try hard enough. Some didn’t try at all (myself included).

    The whole nation had fallen into a dogmatic slumber.

    So the irony of writing about our democracy when the very idea of it is under threat in Afghanistan is certainly not lost on me.

    I also recognise protestations by many of my fellow Afghans who believe Western style, or Western-imposed, democracy will not work in Afghanistan. I agree too that George W. Bush’s “vision” that Muslim societies would jump on the so-called democracy bandwagon and embrace Western democratic ideals overnight was imbecilic idealism.

    Yet, more than ever, I remain convinced that democracy can and will work in Afghanistan. The failure of the current institution of democracy in Afghanistan does not mean the failure of democary itself. Nor should it represent the end of our democratic experiment.

    Rather a true, an indigenously-initiated grassroots democracy is our only way out of the vicious post-1979 Afghan cycle that has brought us nothing but tragedy, death and darkness.

    A true democracy is what I call grassroots democracy, one based on the power of the people themselves: The you and I of Afghanistan.

    Democary itself is a beautiful thing. A true democracy in Afghanistan is the ultimate embodiment of what I call the Afghan Renaissance.

    To appreciate democracy, it is paramount that we understand its very principles which reflect that all citizens be equal before the law, must have equal access to power and enjoy freedoms such as the freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

    These principles of democracy can not be taken lightly. Implemented properly, these principles will result in a society that every Afghan would be proud to live in and serve.

    The reasons for the failure of the democratic experiment in Afghanistan today is the failure of the current crop of Afghan leaders to uphold true democratic ideals.

    A true democracy, based on the principles of justice and equality, requires a certain set of beliefs, a certain level of responsibility and commitment that are hitherto missing in our efforts in Afghanistan.

    Unless we deliver on these important preconditions, our democratic experiment will continue to be farcical. As amply evident from the experiences of the last Presidential Elections, the democratic principals, for instance, can not be upheld without, foremost, a responsible government. It is an essential part of representative democracy that elections be fair both substantively and procedurally.

    What are the democratic preconditions we need to bring about?

    To bring about a true democracy in Afghanistan, we must strive as a nation to create the preconditions upon which to build a true democracy.

    A change of national attitude must be the starting point. As the saying goes, attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference. We need to start believing in ourselves and in our own powers. We need to acquire the “can do attitude”, or the belief that we can bring true peace, true stability, true prosperity, and, therefore, true democracy to our country.

    To acquire this “can do attitude”, we need a new crop of leaders that can instill this very concept in our nation. For true peace, true stability, true prosperity and, therefore, true democracy to take hold, a nation must believe in its leadership.

    And when a nation lacks a leadership capable of healing its wounds, like we do today, a caring leadership that is, it must struggle to find it. And when it can not find, it must strive to create it.

    We need a responsible and caring leadership. The starting point of a true relationship between a nation and its leaders is the trust factor. A nation must trust its leaders.

    Today, for a responsible and committed leadership, for a leadership that can prove it truly cares and shows a capacity to heal our spiritual wounds, Afghans will even go to the wolves!

    It is, for me, in this special interplay between the nation and its leadership that lies the very notion of grassroots democracy. It is precisely in the resulting atmosphere of mutual trust that a nation acquires a capacity to believe in, and bring to power, a responsible and committed leadership, breaking the boundaries of tribal and ethnic politics in the process.

    It is precisely in this special nation-leader relationship that the national will comes to the fore and public opinion becomes the dominant governing factor.

    That, my fellow countrymen and women, is the very dawn of the sort of a mature political culture that is the embodiment of a true and mature democracy, as opposed to the artificial democracy that is in existence in Afghanistan today.

    But remember, my countrymen and women, our institution of democracy in Afghanistan today, as imperfect as it maybe, is our last bastion of hope to create a stable, a peaceful, and a more equitable society.

    Defending and keeping alive our current imperfect institution of democracy, while our Western friends are slowly abandoning support for our democratic ideals, keeps alive our most important vision of the future.

    Defending our imperfect democracy today must become the very first step of our struggle to establish a truly indigenous and lasting Afghan democracy.

    For there will be no prospects of a Renaissance in Afghanistan if we fail to keep alive our very institution of democracy.

    Shaukat Zamani is the founder of Help Afghan Education. He can be reached on:

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