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Issue #9: The History of Democracy in Afghanistan
A look at the short-lived Democracy in Afghanistan
On August 15th, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and with that, democracy in the nation came to an end. While the experts, media, and random people online will debate the withdrawal, which was years in the making, this article will not delve into that. This newsletter will offer readers a look at the elections of Afghanistan’s short democracy.
The Diverse Ethnic Map
While this has already been well-documented, it bares repeating that Afghanistan is a ethnically complex nation. The county has long stood in the crossroads of the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Central Asia, and Russia. Its borders have been heavily influenced by foreign powers; notably operating as a buffer state between the Russian Empire and British India for decades. The ethnic map includes many peoples who’s tribal heritage crosses international borders. The northern districts include large numbers of Tajik, Turkmen, and Kazakh people’s. A large Persian population residents in the middle of the nation. The Pashtun people reside along the southern border.
The arbitrary lines, which ignore ethnic histories, are best seen in the southern Border. The Durand Line, which was agreed to in 1893 between the British and the then-ruler of the nation. The line split the Pashtun people between Afghanistan and then-British India (now Pakistan).
The border, which goes along the low-density mountain regions. It is widely regarded as a no-man’s land, with little government patrol or presence.
Democracy in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s history is long and well-documented. This newsletter starts with the fall of US-led invasion of the nation and the fall of the Taliban Government. An interim government was set up, led my Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun official Karzai had been heavily involved in Afghanistan internal politics for years. He was a western-friendly official who tried to make peace with the Taliban when the seized control in the 1990s. Karzai aimed to find peace, but after his father was assassinated (rumored by the Taliban), he aligned much more directly with the Northern Alliance, which was leading a Tajik-heavy resistance to Taliban rule. Karzai also gave warnings to the US and EU that the no-mans land of the southern border was being used by terrorist cells like Al-Qaeda.
In December of 2001, the Bonn Agreement saw Karzai named the head of a provisional government. A new constitution was ratified in 2003 and Afghanistan was re-organized as an Islamic Republic.
Karzai’s time as interim leader was not smooth. The country had/has little infrastructure and control from the Government outside the capital was limited. The situation was so bad that the US spent millions on construction projects alone - which were never finished and represent our half-handed approach to nation building after 2002/2003.
The first Presidential election in Afghanistan took place in 2004. Karzai was always the frontrunner for the job. He faced…
Yunus Qanuni, who was a prominent leader of the Northern Alliance and an ethnic Tajik
Muhammad Mohaqiq, a major rebel leader during the Soviet occupation and ethnic Hazar/Persian
Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was actually a communist leader during the Soviet-backed Government who had been an anti-Taliban rebel leader. He is ethnic Uzbek.
Karzia easily won the election, securing over 50% to avoid a runoff. He dominated in the southern Pashtun regions, while his opponents each had bases of support.
The election was held under intense security, as the Taliban promised to disrupt the election. However, it largely operated safely. Fraud was, however, rampant in the election - something that would remain the norm for the nation’s democracy.
In 2009, Karzai ran for re-election. Corruption was a major issue in the election. The main opposition to Karzai came from Abdullah Abdullah, a major leader in the Northern Alliance. Abdullah is Pashtun on his father’s side and Tajik on his mother’s side. He was viewed as a real threat to Karzai. Like 2004, fraud was rampant. The belief is that the US preferred Abdullah to win; seeing Karzai as a leader weakened by corruption scandals.
As results came in, they pointed to Karzai having around 55% of the vote. However, as international groups went through and tried to removed fraudulent ballots, Karzai’s total fell to just below 50% - meaning a runoff was needed.
Karzai vehemently protested the shifting vote totals. But he and Abdullah lost votes after the tossing of fraudulent ballots, but it hurt Karzai more. The US and international forces tried to make peace for a runoff, or get Karzai to agree to a coalition government with Abdullah. Karzai finally agreed to a runoff, but Abdullah, siting the fraud of the first round, pulled out of the vote.
The nation remained divided for the next several years. The next Presidential election took place in 2014. Karzai could not run due to term limits. His base was largely filled by Ashraf Ghani, the former Minster of Finance and a Pashtun. He faced against Abdullah in the first round. Abdullah came close to an outright victory.
The runoff results showed Ghani surge to first place and win with an estimated 55% of the vote. This was marred by fraud, like past elections, with over 800,000 ballots tossed out by election auditors. Abdullah cried foul.
To settle the election, which all sides regarded as tainted, a power-sharing agreement was set up between the two candidates. Ghani would be named President, with Abdullah named the CEO of the nation.
A rematch for the Presidency was held in 2019. This time, Ghani came out with 50% in the first round, meaning a runoff was not needed. However, fraud was still a major concern, and Abdullah refused to recognize the results.
Ghani sacked Abdullah while Abdullah called for an independent Northern state. After the US threatened to without aid, a new power-sharing deal was agreed to by both men. Abdullah was tasked with negotiating piece talks with the Taliban, who were gaining ground in the nation once again.
And now, with the Taliban taking Kabul, democracy in Afghanistan is likely over. Whether sham elections follow or not, its a guarantee they won’t be free or fair. Ghani has fled the nation. Meanwhile, Abdullah and Karzai remain in the country to negotiate with the Taliban.
The democracy experiment in Afghanistan is over.