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Opinion: Only democracy can protect and unite Afghanistan

By Zia Nezam

The world’s most successful developed countries have democratic governments. Democratic states have proved repeatedly to be better at meeting the needs of their populations and at avoiding becoming failed states. History is filled with examples of people who struggle for the right to say in how their lives are controlled. In the last generation, a dramatic trend of nations moving toward democracy is evident. Since the international community helped Afghanistan return to nation-wide elections in 2004, Afghanistan has shown the world that it, too, wants democracy, that is the right to vote for those would lead the Afghan people. 

No one would say Afghanistan today is a stable, fully functioning democracy, with its rabid ethnic in-fighting, fraud-tainted elections, its governmental and commercial corruption, and the continuing failure to provide sufficient basic services to a majority of its citizens. Yet, currently the insecurity that Afghanistan faces does not stem from the shortcomings of any democratic system. Our instability or insecurity stems from terrorism and foreign interference. Afghans all know democracies need time to develop; we citizens must be committed to overcoming ethnic mistrust and to providing universal public education, and our democracy needs us to understand the power and value of a vote in order to effect lasting change.

In Afghanistan’s progress toward a stronger and more inclusive democracy, one can see every day the right to express opinions, on the street and in the media.  The re-emergence of women enriches and strengthens the country. The pursuit of learning and self-improvement and the wider economic opportunities that democracy leads to, any casual observer can see this. While frustratingly slow at times, Afghans are seeing institution-building in the political sphere. As democracy gives Afghans access to a wider, more diverse world, new ideas and   possible improvements can be brought into the national conversation of Afghanistan’s future. I personally have been witness to the closed, poor Afghanistan of my youth, then totalitarian violence, brutal censorship, and persistent fear the Afghan people felt. Thus, with all its present shortcomings, our democracy has improved our country greatly.

I have seen, too, tremendous strides in people’s thinking –  the thinking of people who love our nation – in overcoming ethnic stereotypes.  I see a lessening of the hard tribalism of our past and a greater tolerance for the different heart-felt expressions of our national faith. In politics we see for the first time in our long history the elected inclusion of all ethnic groups. While terrorists still injure Afghanistan, our democracy is slowing marginalizing extremism that would destroy the future for our children. Democracy increases the interaction of regions and undergrids real nation-building. Dictatorships does the opposite; it always seeks to divide people, isolate its critics, and suppress them. Strong democratic institutions defy authoritarian rulers.  

The national government must proceed with more decentralization, better internal management and accountability, greater electoral fairness, more resources to social development, more transparency, and stronger efforts to unite us. With those goals foremost, I truly believe our path toward a robust, stable democratic state is attainable.

Dr. Zia Nezam was former ambassador to Vienna, Brussels and Rome.

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