Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan
    Book Description:

    Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, researchers, policymakers, and the media have failed to consider the long-term implications of the country's post-conflict elections. Based on fieldwork in provinces across the country and interviews with more than seven hundred candidates, officials, community leaders, and voters, this book builds an in-depth portrait of Afghanistan's recent elections as experienced by individuals and communities, while revealing how the elections have in fact actively contributed to instability, undermining the prospects of democracy in Afghanistan.

    Merging political science with anthropology, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson document how political leaders, commanders, and the new ruling elite have used elections to further their own interests and deprive local communities of access to political opportunities. They retrace presidential, parliamentary, and provincial council elections over the past decade and expose the role of international actors in promoting the polls as one-off events, detached from the broader political landscape. This approach to elections has allowed existing local powerholders to solidify their grip on resources and opportunities, derailing democratization processes and entrenching a deeper disengagement from central government. Western powers, Coburn and Larson argue, need to reevaluate their most basic assumptions about elections, democracy, and international intervention if they hope to prevent similar outcomes in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53574-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xix)
  7. Map of Afghanistan
    (pp. xx-xx)
    (pp. 1-28)

    In northernmost afghanistan, before the bend in the Amu Darya that sends the river north to be swallowed up by the Uzbek desert, live many of the country’s Turkmen. Settlements here are not as remote as those in the high mountains of the Wakhan Corridor or in the rugged valleys of Nuristan, but the population is still isolated, despite the proximity of the busy border crossing into Uzbekistan and the relatively wealthy city of Mazar-i Sharif. Unlike other parts of the Turkistan Plain, which stretches across the northern limits of the Hindu Kush, the land is not particularly fertile, and...

  9. 2 OF BALLOTS AND BOUNDARIES: A Brief History of Political Participation in Afghanistan
    (pp. 29-41)

    August 20, 2009. Election Day in Kabul fell on a particularly hazy summer morning. Security concerns kept many people indoors initially, the streets feeling eerily empty. As the morning progressed, however, the city’s intricate network of alleyways, side roads, and paved thoroughfares became gradually busier: dozens of schools, clinics, and other public buildings across the province were briefly transformed into hives of activity as people turned out to cast their votes. One polling center, located in a small village school between the districts of Istalif and Qara Bagh, was crowded for much of the morning, the main road outside choked...

  10. 3 ELECTING THE PEACE? Afghanistan’s Fast-Track Democracy
    (pp. 42-62)

    The treacherous climb up the Kabul mountainside had to be made on foot: despite the best efforts of Hamid, our accomplished driver, the wheels of the white Corolla simply spat and spun for several minutes on the icy slopes. On leaving the vehicle at the bottom of the path, still a good 500 feet above the smog-soaked city, the best we could do on that freezing January morning was to remain upright on the slippery 45-degree incline, edging our way gingerly toward the parliamentarian’s simple home. By the time we reached her two-roomed stone cottage on the mountain, we were...

  11. 4 A HOUSE OF SAND: The Fallout of the 2005 Parliamentary Election
    (pp. 63-97)

    Two miles to the southwest of Kabul’s central mosque and markets, just beyond a mountain lined by the old city walls, sits the Afghan parliament. Abutting the once-beautiful, then-war-ravaged, and now once again fashionable district ofKart-e Seor Third Quarter, it is housed in an unassuming and unattractive modern construction. Hard to spot from the main boulevard, the building is encased in concrete slabs and barbed wire—cursory measures to deter the numerous suicide attacks that have struck the area since 2001. A further two miles to the south are the bombed-out ruins of Darulaman Palace, the building once...

    (pp. 98-134)

    The shomali is a wide fertile plain that separates Kabul from the Hindu Kush mountains. Watered by a complex system of irrigation channels, the land is valuable and historically has played an important role in national politics. The political and economic significance of the area, however, has also created a good deal of localized tension between the various ethnic groups and tribes that live there.

    The region’s local leaders are deeply involved in complex political webs that tie together actors from the very lowest level to concerns of national significance. This plays out in the debates and discussions that characterize...

    (pp. 135-161)

    The faux grandeur of the building was not out of place in this part of the city. Over the years since the Americans arrived, plots in Karte-e Se had increasingly been bought up for ambitious construction projects by warlords, parliamentarians, and businessmen—sometimes one and the same person. These had begun in the center of town near the embassies, in the exclusive Shirpur and Wazir Akbar Khan districts, but had later moved out west where space was more readily available and marginally cheaper in the early days of the intervention.

    The wide, once tree-lined avenues of this neighborhood still maintained...

    (pp. 162-184)

    Pacha khan zadran—warlord, tribal leader, parliamentarian, bereaved father—personifies Afghanistan’s violent history, weak central state, and fluid forms of authority. A symbol of power among the Zadran tribe, he does not fit into any simple political category, leading to a series of overlapping stories and rumors about who he is, the nature of his relationship with the government, and his role in elections and the political violence that surrounded them.

    As an influential regional leader, Pacha Khan has featured in several news articles, but is often written about in contradicting ways. In 2003 he was described by theNew...

  15. 8 “THEY MAKE THEIR ABLUTIONS WITH BOTTLED WATER”: Elites and the Decline of Accountability
    (pp. 185-216)

    “According to the Mullah,” said the old man, “three things are unknown: death, doomsday, and the soul. But nowadays people say in this village that four things are unknown—these three, and the results of the provincial council elections.”

    Speaking at his simple mud brick home in a village two miles to the west of Jalalabad City, this former government driver reflected at length on how the previous year’s provincial council polls had been “a mockery of an election,” and were still, almost a year later, the subject of public ridicule. This was the reason, he said, why the people...

    (pp. 217-234)

    Over a decade after the initial U.S. invasion, it is clear that many in the West are ready to close the chapter on the troubled international intervention in Afghanistan. But as this chapter closes and another, much less likely to be influenced by the international community, begins, it is difficult to tell what the story of the past decade in Afghanistan is and what can be learned from it. Despite the ways that some may try to simplify it, Afghanistan is not the story of the triumph of radical Islam, nor is it the failure of internationally protected human rights,...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 235-252)
    (pp. 253-262)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 263-284)