The hegemony of democracy has been challenged in Afghanistan as the rights and liberty of individuals are violated egregiously. In post-Taliban Afghanistan, the nation took active part in political decision-makings through electing their representatives. Within the last decade and so, the presidential and provincial elections and peaceful transfer of power has been prominent milestone in the country’s history. Democratic discourse, human rights and empowerment of women have been hotly debated and Afghans dreamed of utopia, where militants had no room.
Democracy in Afghanistan has not passed a normal process but ebbed and flowed within different regimes. Amanullah Khan is believed to sow the seeds of democracy in the country during his regime (1919-1929). But his exaggerated movement, which disregarded the traditional customs and cultural values, triggered a strong reaction from the public, mainly from the religious figures, leading to the downfall of his regime. The germ of this thought paved the ground for democratic practices.
Subsequently, democracy was considered to secularize the cultural values and resisted against it publicly. The radical elements, mainly in tribal belts, and dictatorial regimes hampered democratic practices in one way or another. Afghans suffered severely and their rights to life, liberty and estate were violated on a large scale.
By and large, the last decade of Zahir Shah’s kingdom, was called the “decade of democracy” or “decade of constitution”. In the solar year of 1343, the constitution of Afghanistan was approved by Loya Jirga (National Grand Assembly) and a free parliamentary election was conducted. This constitution, which restricted the King’s power, was considered the best one comparing to the past constitutions. Similarly, this constitution did not discriminate one on the basis of their race, color or sex and women were allowed to be the candidates for parliament. This was also a high step towards democracy.
To cut it short, democracy was repressed during the Taliban’s regime as people were killed in wholesale for their accidental backgrounds and ideological differences. Women bore the brunt of the regime’s aggression and cruel practices. The Taliban’s fundamental ideology was in strong conflict with democracy. Afghans underwent indescribable sufferings and their freedoms were curtailed.
With the downfall of the Taliban’s regime, Afghanistan moved towards democracy following the Bonn Conference held on December 2001. The constitution of Afghanistan was approved in a Loya Jirga conducted in Kabul in 2004. In the preamble of this constitution, protecting human rights and dignity, observing Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and United Nation’s Charter have been underlined and the government has been committed to form a civil society, where people could exercise their fundamental rights freely. Moreover, any kinds of discrimination on the grounds of one’s race, sex and color are forbidden as article 22 states, “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.”
Additionally, freedom is considered the inherent right of mankind and article 24 maintains, “…Liberty and human dignity are inviolable. The state shall respect and protect liberty as well as human dignity.” In short, this is a unique constitution in the history of Afghanistan and will alleviate the social and political challenges if enforced properly.
Despite this fact, the nation’s pains and sufferings have not come to end. Afghans still bleed as a result of terrorism and unmitigated insurgency. In other words, the Taliban, along with other militant groups, trample upon the rights and liberty of Afghan men and women. There are two main obstacles before peace and stability: First warring factions, mainly the Taliban, undermine democracy via spilling the blood of combatants and non-combatants alike. Similarly, the emergence of self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) deteriorated the security situation. The affiliates to ISIL stoke sectarianism and spread fear and anxiety in the air. In a nutshell, the high graph of civilian casualties put democracy under question.
Secondly, the government was unable not only in enforcing the law but some officials were involved in corruption. After all, the constitution was widely violated by the government and even parliamentary election was not held despite the termination of its legal period. In another item, parliament is considered the “beating heart of democracy”, and this heart beats no more in the country. The National Unity Government (NUG) failed to protect the rights and liberty of the nation, which was stated in the constitution.
Similarly, political tensions among the high-ranking officials also narrowed the room for democracy. They focused their attention on self-interests rather than paying heed to more pivotal issues. The militant fighters are believed to have taken advantage of the political turmoil and widened their realm of terrorist activities.
Democratization has been largely hampered by social and political challenges and there is much to be done to strengthen the nascent democracy and protect the rights and freedom of the nation. With the escalated militancy and emergence of many warring factions, Afghans’ dream for a civil society did not come true and all the hopes were shattered. So, the vacuum for democracy will not be filled only with written law when not enforced or unfair election.