Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, July 11th, 2020

The ups and downs of democracy in Afghanistan


The ups and downs of democracy  in Afghanistan

Although the modernization process has begun since the kingdom of Habibullah Khan and Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan, the experience of democracy is attributed to two distinct periods, namely the era Mohammad Zahir Shah and Hamed Karzai. Historically, after the death of Abdul Rahman Khan, his son Habibullah Khan took the power with releasing dozens of prisoners, inviting back the exiled Afghan figures and ended the dictatorial atmosphere in the country. With starting changes from himself, he divorced his fifth wife so as to show his firm determination on enforcement of Islamic law. After a trip to India, he realized that his country was lagged behind civilization and progress. After that he got interested in developmental activities and so he established Habibia high school and then commenced the publication of the Seraj al-Akhbar. The Habibiya School became the main center of Enlightenment where Indian, Turkish, and Afghan teachers promoted the ideas of independence and constitutionalism. The Independent and constitutionalist intellectuals formed a national secret group but they were arrested and executed by the king. When Mullah Mohammad Wasif, who considered as the leader of the Constitutionalists, was executed he asked a pen and paper and then wrote that he had left his life and property for constitutionalism.
Although the constitutionalists were repressed in the beginning, later in 1911 it revived with recommencement of Siraj al-Akhbar under leadership of Mahmoud Tarzi. Seraj al-Akhbar always took stance against internal despotism, British colonist policies and overall raised the voice of second constitutionalists with modern European literature. With the fall of Amanullah, the constitutionalism and modernism movement were also fallen down.  After years of closure, a more significant wave of democratization re-emerged under kingdom of Zahir Shah which is referred to as “decade of democracy”.  The Constitutionalist ideas were at the forefront of the decade of democracy. The political experience of the decade of democracy is significant and can be summarized in several important points: the rise of political parties, draft of the constitutional law, establishment of newspapers and magazines, growth of secularists and communist intellectuals and freedom of social association and demonstration which showed a sort of pluralistic society. The second experience of democracy begins with the presidency of Hamid Karzai at the beginning of the 21st century. The international forces led by the United States and foreign organizations played key role in emergence of democracy and enhancement of the democratic values in the initial steps and so they were warmly welcomed by Afghan people. Despite numerous challenges in the next decade, Afghanistan could succeed to preserve democratic experience in Afghanistan. Now, after 19 years of ups and downs, significant achievements have been made in various fields. Today, the democracy of Afghanistan has gained a long and promising experience which can be explained by following components:
The first and most important component of democratic achievement in last two decade is the freedom of expression. The media growth in Afghanistan has been the biggest achievement in the last two decades.  Mojib Khalwatgar, the chief executive officer of the Afghan Free Media Foundation (NII), said there are 483 media across Afghanistan, including 96 television networks, 190 radio stations, 14 news agencies and 183 print media.  But according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Culture and Information, 2000 and 343 media have taken work permit in the country. Along with mass media, social media such as Face-book and Twitter have also a lot of users. Several foreign and international media are also active in Afghanistan. Criticism from governance and also from political, cultural, and economic issues have no restrictions in the country.  Therefore, the extent of such freedom has been unprecedented in Afghanistan.
The second important component of democracy which achieved in last two decade is civil society institutions and including multiple political parties. In democratic systems, the civil institutions such as student unions, trade unions, social associations, research institutes and universities not only play as watchdogs role but also bridge between government and people with playing a preventive role against authoritarianism. The growth of such institutions strengthens and stabilizes the democracy in the country. The international assistance through civil society organizations has strengthened civil society institutions contributing plurality of voices in the community. The voice of civil society plays important role in major political decision making such as the peace and social justice. In Afghanistan, the civil society has always stressed on preservation of democratic values, social justice, free and fair election and so on. This implies that the society has largely rescued from monopolistic condition. The third important component of democracy which achieved in last two decade is rule of law and constitution. The constitution comprises all rules and regulations about political power, transition of political power and enforcement of political power. The constitution is the mother of the laws that define the framework of political system, limit the political power and specify boundaries of individual liberty. Moreover, all other laws are originated from the constitution. This constitution which considered as eighth constitution in Afghanistan ratified under President Hamid Karza in 2003 in 12 chapters and 162 articles. Though the current constitution of Afghanistan has some minor flaws, it is one of the best laws in the region and considered as an important achievement for Afghanistan.  It defines the division of powers, freedom of expression, the rights and duties and freedom of citizens; it prohibited all forms of discrimination in the country. In light of the constitution, numerous laws have been adopted and amended in the past 18 years. As a result, Afghanistan has enriched in terms of having modern and democratic laws but there are serious challenges in law enforcement.
Now that Afghanistan has more than 19 years political experience with enjoying freedom of expression, free election, freedom of demonstration, freedom of civil society, political party and so on there are serious concerns about returning to the past. In fact, there are many factors including Taliban, political interferences, religious and racial extremists that threaten democracy in Afghanistan. These factors are so powerful that requires grave measures in this segment of the history.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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