democracy in AfghanistanBy Huma Naseri

Democracy is no more seen as a western term but pursued as a global phenomenon. Discourses related to democracy are always around yet defining and measuring democracy remains unsolved dilemma. The two countries which share a lot in common than differences are far beyond a narrative of democracy in the world. The recent practice of democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan goes against the assumption that democracy ‘is the better form of government that tends to deliver better development security, political and social conditions.

On May 11, 2013 the general elections were held in Pakistan to elect the members of the 14th National Assembly and to the four provincial assemblies. Despite the pre-election violence threats and attacks, millions turned to cast their votes.  The elections brought “the first completed-term transition between civilian governments in a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history. Election brought victory to the Pakistan Muslim League-N.  Nawaz Sharif, who twice served as Pakistan’s prime minister in the 1990s, was elected as the prime-minister for the 3rd time by the national assembly.

It was seen an easy win for Nawaz Sharif since he has decisively garnered enough seats in the Parliament to let him govern the country for the third time. However, after almost a year, the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan declared a “civil disobedience movement” against the democratically elected Prime Minister and asked him to step down in order to pave the way for fresh elections.  He claimed that the last year poll was massively rigged.  Since then, Pakistan’s political situation has been tensed and uncertainty hovers above the country.

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Unlike Pakistan, election in Afghanistan appeared to be very controversial, yet likewise the Pakistani people, Afghans went to polling centers in notable number to vote in their country’s 3rd presidential election.  According to some reports “it was perhaps the most successful election ever held in Afghanistan.” Based on the election results, in the first round the former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, took the lead with 44.9 percent of all votes casted, while Ex- Finance minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received 31.5 percent of the votes.

 Predictably, despite the huge turnout, none of the candidates were able to secure an absolute majority of 50% plus one vote. As a result, the election entered the second round. The run-off took place on June 14 marked by violence, allegations of fraud, and other controversies.  The preliminary results of the run-off put Dr. Ghani in the lead; however, Dr. Abdullah, “who had already lost the previous presidential bid in controversial circumstances, declared himself the true winner” and alleged the government, the election commissions and Ghani’s election team of industrial scale fraud and rigging in Dr. Ghani’s favor.  Similarly, Dr. Ghani also recognized, to an extent, flaws in the election process and filed rigging and fraud complaints against his rival’s team.  However, he denied all allegations against him and declared victory following the preliminary results by IEC.

Analyzing the status-quo in both of the countries, one can argue that a new fragmented political landscape is emerging.  In Pakistan while the elected government was struggling to prove greater room for security, better economy and foreign policy yet the civil disobedient movement claiming the people’s democracy continues to overshadow politics and giving little room for political, social and security development.  Likewise, in Afghanistan, the trust and credibility of democratic institutions and democratic processes are being challenged.

The disjunction between the constitution and political practices are undermining the core value of democracy one of which is fair and free elections which in turn is reducing peoples’ faith in democracy. The  recent political mess made the  citizen to think, their vote and voice does not have any impact since the politicians do not have the best interested of people in their mind, rather they have a common political interested on which they negotiate among themselves. In both countries most of the time elections are based on personalities rather than on ideologies and ethnicity is often used as a tool to gain support while due to poverty, inequality and high illiteracy people often tend to link themselves up with the individuals who on their belief serve their interests rather than focusing on ideologies.

Both countries have experiences continual ups and downs in political landscapes, yet the fragmented recent elections in both countries have added up more in uncertainties  by developing  a new  culture of coalitions and force ‘totalitarian’  used as an instrument to pursue interests. Consequently, democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains highly contested and will continue to remain fragile, unstable and negotiable among different parties rather than a system of government by the whole population.

 Afghanistan and Pakistan both are in unsalable circumstance, neither in Pakistan nor in Afghanistan is the entire country governed by the government.  Many areas in both countries lie outside the states’ writs and are governed either by militia or non-state actors that in turn pose further challenge to the already fragile democracies.

Huma Naseri is an Afghan analyst and writes on regular basis for her blog, online news portals and BBC Pashto covering issues related to Afghanistan. She holds Masters in International Relation and Political Science from Germany


  • Ahmad Shah Ghanizada

    Ahmad Shah Ghani Zada is the former Senior Editor of Khaama Press Agency who managed and overlooked the English edition. He is occasionally contributing stories to the agency.