Election in Afghanistan - a potential tipping point

Posted in NATO , Afghanistan | 05-Nov-08 | Source: NATO Review

Daoud Sultanzoy gives his impression, as an Afghan member of Parliament, of the risks that his country runs if it does not connect with its people during the coming elections

Looking at Afghanistan, its democracy and its future, it is very clear many golden opportunities for improvement have been lost over the past seven years.

Lost, first and foremost, by the Afghan leadership for not being able to do its part in every single aspect of governance. But also lost by the international community for not fully recognizing the importance of a more transparent, disciplined, and coherent approach to tackling the problems in Afghanistan.

The international community now has to refocus on the reality they know. This reality includes the lowest life expectancy in the world. It includes poverty, poor health care and poor education. And it includes a shortage of other services despite the (albeit insufficient) aid and money poured into the country.

The people of Afghanistan know what the problems are: corruption, waste, lack of co-ordination, indecisiveness and problems stemming from failed leadership, which has hindered aid delivery and reconstruction. They know that the reasons for problems have not changed, just the emphasis on discussing them. The future of Afghanistan depends on these people. They are aware that the international community’s involvement is now a life or death factor for their nation.

There has been much discussion of issues like rule of law, good governance, justice and drugs. But other key aspects of rescuing Afghanistan have been neglected.

There are some issues that the people of the country, especially the younger generation (who comprise a dramatic 85% of the population), are worried about. Plainly put, they are wondering what is going to happen to them in terms of daily living, jobs and simple aspects of life. They are likewise concerned with the political future of their country, which is connected to their own, personal well-being.

They are asking basic questions like:

  • How serious is a democracy if the generation of the future, the majority, indefinitely see themselves ruled by the old guards of the dark ages?
  • What would the continuation of this mean for democracy and the perception of democracy in Afghanistan and beyond?
  • Who is providing real and meaningful support to the democrats, while others of dubious credentials and anti-democratic forces have multiple sponsors and are set on undoing democratisation and harmony?

It is vital to realise that younger generations of Afghans are at a crossroads. They are watching as bystanders while others (who do not understand them) are making all the decisions for them. They do not feel part of the political process.

This is due to their lack of integration into meaningful social and political programmes, in addition to the Afghan leadership’s inability to galvanise and lead. Similarly, this leadership does not address the immediate needs of its citizens, thereby creating a disconnect between the population and government.

And what happens if democracy doesn't work...?

Here’s the risk: this inadequate relationship is further driving people away from the mainstream, and creating opportunities for distrust in the authority that so vehemently stated it would fulfill its promises. Citizens will be driven toward extremism and criminality, and once these occurrences fully unravel, it will be increasingly difficult to restore control and order.

These issues are not only of major concern to the younger Afghan generation, but should also be immediately addressed by our allies and the Afghan government.

The approaching political season in the country should bring much-needed attention to these issues. This especially significant political time can provide necessary awareness of Afghanistan, and that its people need much more than what the international community and Afghan government have been talking about.

Finding adequate responses to these needs could create the essential impetus and catalyst so the people can become part of the process - and not simply observe as bystanders.

No nation can be built if its people do not feel a sense of ownership.

No people can have a sense of ownership if they do not feel part of the process.

No process will succeed if it lacks proper leadership.

No leadership can lead if it is void of credibility.

With these facts in mind we must examine:

  • Whether there is a danger that non-democrats could hijack a new democracy in Afghanistan.
  • The need to give Afghans a sense of ownership of this democracy.
  • The need for Afghans to make the democratic process more accountable.
  • The importance of the coming elections.
  • The need to demonstrate a peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another.

Free and fair elections are at the heart of the issue. To show our seriousness as a group of nations in our promise to help Afghanistan, we must fully equip ourselves to fulfill our commitment.

Fair elections would allow the people of Afghanistan - for the first time in their modern history - to change leadership from one president to another elected president peacefully, affording people the much-needed sense of democratic ownership. This is immeasurably important for nation-building and democracy promotion.

Fair elections will provide a new flexibility and patience in people who have been largely frustrated and exhausted. Local ownership will allow the new leadership and international partners to learn from the past mistakes and resume a reinvigorated reconstruction and reform process.

Fair elections will also re-engage and re-stimulate the constituencies of all countries involved in helping Afghanistan. It will tell them that the efforts of the past seven or eight years were not a waste - and the process is bearing fruits.

I see that the Afghan government has already begun to rig the elections through various tactics, right under the nose of the international community. If this misuse and abuse of power is tolerated, people will interpret this as a nod by the allies of Afghanistan. I believe that such abuse would derail any future chances of having the Afghan people on the side of international community.

Similarly, international community support for an administration that rigs election will be a blow to democracy and its own reputation.

The desires of the Afghan people are no different from other peoples or nations. Meaningful and long-lasting change is what the people want.

If we fail to recognise this much-needed aspiration, then a nation will arise whose majority will side with the opponents of democracy. Disillusionment will lead to widespread extremism and criminality, and we may be left with a nation who will no longer trust any system of governance.

The ramifications of such failure and loss of credibility by the international community in Afghanistan will not be limited just to Afghanistan. Its reverberations will be felt throughout the region, the entire Islamic world, and beyond.

Daoud Sultanzoy is an Afghan Member of Parliament in Afghanistan’s National Assembly (Wolesi Jirga). He is also Chairman of Afghanistan’s National Economy Committee. He writes in a personal capacity and is available for comment at: [email protected]