By Bismellah Alizada
The Fifth of April elections, deemed as a milestone by many in the most critical moment of Afghanistan’s contemporary history, took place with around 7 million voters unexpectedly peacefully amid extensive threats by Taliban. As anticipated by some, in the first round no standee could acquire the required percentage of votes to legally succeed Karzai, therefore the IEC on Thursday, 15th of May, announced that the runoff will be held on 14th of June. There are an overwhelming number of concerns raised by media, analysts and citizens, but the key issue is that the runoff will prove the very vital point from which the prevalent, and on occasions serious, fear originates: has the fledgling democracy and modern statesmanship reached a certain level of irreversibility in 13 recent years in Afghanistan?
After a visit of colonial India, in 1907, Afghanistan’s Habibullah Khan showed a great enthusiasm for modernization, starting from clothing and eating style – a very common approach traceable in all waves of modernization since then, especially in the political arena. Habibia High School, his most thoughtful initiative in 1903, triggered the first, but latter suppressed, political movement favoring constitutionalism. Habibulla’s successor, King Amanullah, prompted unprecedented initiatives upon his ascendance to the throne: declaring independence from colonial Britain, sending students to Turkey for education, and the first constitution in 1924, to name but a few. After his return from a more-than-a-year-long tour of the world (especially Europe), he maniacally took modernization measures most of which superficial – most notable of these measures included unveiling Queen Sorayya, his wife, and ordering officials to wear uniforms and suits. These steps were limited only in the narrow capital, however, and did not reach out to the wide margin with tremendous power of tradition and religion. This wide margin soon rose against the wave first in the guise of Mulla-e-Lang from the south and ultimately culminated into Amanullah’s takeover by Habibullah Kalakani, a Tajik from Kohistan, north of Kabul, with no understanding of kingship and governance. Afghanistan, as a result of this overthrow, fell on the path of retrogression that marked the first failure of moving towards modern state.
In 1946, seventeen years after overthrow of Amanullah, another movement formed under premiership of Shah Mahmoud that resulted in establishment of National Assembly and elections for the first time in the history of Afghanistan – this period is frequently named the decade of democracy. For the first time, Afghans practiced free political activities and movements like Wishzalmian (Awake Youths), Watan (the Homeland) and Students Union took shape. These movements, a significant number of whose members were students and teachers of Kabul University, were early forms of political parties who led publications, too. In the end, Shah Mahmood viewed these improvements as threats to the monarchy and tried to curb it down. Fraud in the 1952 elections led to wide public demonstrations that, though suppressed, served as an excuse to imprison key members of Watan and The People party. The 1964 constitution, passed by 452 members of Loya Jirga, was one of the major achievements that restricted the royal family from membership in the cabinet, thus opening a way for non-Pashtuns to enter politics – Dr. Yosuf, the then prime minister, for instance, was a non-Pashtun. In the 1965 elections, that is deemed as relatively fair, antiroyalists, leftists, rightists, pro-King candidates, businesspersons, and four women made their ways to the National Assembly. The growing democracy, however, did not last long. In 1969 elections, many of the leftists and women lost their seats – many blame intervention of government for it – and the National Assembly’s active role went waning. The situation coincided with public dissatisfaction and two subsequent years of drought and famine. In 1973, Daud Khan, King’s cousin and former prime minister who was educated in France, took the power through a successful and bloodless coup d’état blaming the government for “anarchy and antinational attitude”. Five years of Daud’s presidency – also last years of Mohammad Zaie’s rule – came with suppressions or at least no significant democratic achievements. The PDPA’s coup d’état in 1978 (7th of Saur) was the dawn of bloodshed period that lasted almost thirty years and claimed millions of lives and left countless calamities and ruins.
After the fall of Taliban in 2001, and with the presence of international community, Afghanistan started a new chapter in its history. Since then, we have made significant accomplishments in many fields: almost ten million in schools and universities, overwhelming achievements in free media, women’s rights, 350,000 army, strong commitment in elections and division of power, relatively strong and institutionalized civil spirit, and civil institutions among others. The international community, as ambassador of Norway once put it, “helped Afghans – as a dad would do – to ride a bicycle, but Afghans should learn to ride it by themselves after 2014.” The runoff will prove that very point: if we have learned to ride the bicycle by ourselves.
The first try of modern state and reforms was whitewashed by fanatic religious causes from the wide margin who opposed Amanullah’s quasi-western attitude. The second try, however, was weakened – if not crushed – by the royal family who feared to lose dominance and the subsequent turmoil and violence that followed marked its demise. Now, in the third try, the religious factor is much weaker than to be a threat but the ethnical ground seems to be one. The question whether Pashtuns yield to shift of power to non-Pashtuns still has no reliably clear answer – even the intra-ethnical shift of power is controversial. The runoff and its result will provide an answer to the question and at the same time will prove if we have learned civil and democratic culture that guarantees irreversibility of all what we have achieved in 13 years of practicing democracy.