December 11th, 2009
08:59 AM ET

Can democracy work in Afghanistan?

Kabul, Afghanistan - In Kabul, the mayor has been convicted of corruption, but continues to work as the city leader.  Abdul Ahad Sahebi was sentenced to four years in prison after being judged guilty of awarding a city construction contract without bidding.  Sahebi says there's no proof.  "It is baseless, without any evidence. without any foundation," he says.

The deputy attorney general Fazil Ahmad Faqeer Yar disagrees. "The court has ordered his dismissal," he says. "So everything he is doing now is illegal."

The matter goes to the heart of NATO's new strategy in Afghanistan - additional troops can bring short-term security but the U.S. says Afghanistan's government needs to crack down on rampant corruption as well.

On paper the Afghan government has executive, legislative and judicial branches, with a political model that resembles those of other democratic states. The country has a constitution that provides equality to all. But even as Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second term as president in November following a fraud-marred election, the international community was pressuring the leader for reform.

The government is plagued with allegations of corruption, cronyism and warlords – with some questioning whether democracy can ever work in Afghanistan.

But others disagree. "In the 262 years of our modern history we have never been governed. We have been ruled - or misruled," says Afghan parliamentarian Daoud Sultanzoy. "And for the Western experts, who are so-called Afghan experts, to say that Afghans do not like governance it's a very easy way out."

Sultanzoy said that if Afghans are given good governance, they would come in several fold and embrace that government and its authorities. WATCH: Can Afghanistan win its people?
"It's not the strength of the Taliban, it's the weakness of this government that has driven the people away from the government," he said.
Sultanzoy says that the problem stems from the top down, and that it is Karzai's responsibility to stamp out the bad seeds.

"The rule of law has to start from the president in exercising it on its own staff, exercising it on its own cabinet and then going into mid and lower level government, in the capital and the provinces," he said. "Then at the same time, go into the private sector."

His advice to Karzai is to bring some of the corrupt government officials to justice and punish them to the extent of the law.
"This will tell the people of Afghanistan that we're serious about governance, we're serious of punishing the people who have sucked the blood out from the people of Afghanistan," Sultanzoy said.
Today's Afghan government is a mix of former NGO employees, including the president himself, and remnants of the Communist and Mujahedeen era.
Corruption, warlords and insecurity are just some of the factors that have been pushing Afghans away from their government and into the arms of the insurgency, some say. 
Karzai vowed once again during his inauguration speech to tackle corruption within his own government.
"The corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state, and we would like to take this matter quite seriously," Karzai said.

But Karzai himself has been criticized for ignoring corruption and surrounding himself with the criminals he should be punishing – allegations he rebuffs.

And although the international community has been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade now, many agree the real work did not start until just recently.
"The first five years that the international community was in Afghanistan, I think it's fair to say that the level of resources and commitment to governance and development was much less than what it has been in the last three years," Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan William Crosbie said.
Crosbie admits that some failures of the Afghan government were also failures by its international partners.
"We too often turned to power brokers and warlords to fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda and turned a blind eye to perhaps if those individuals were inappropriately using government offices or using their power," he said. 

Both the international community and the Karzai government will have to make difficult choices when those kinds of individuals will no longer be relied upon, he added.
No war has ever been won in Afghanistan without the support of the Afghan people.  This coming year may be the pivotal year in which the Afghans will decide which way to go.  That's when Obama's strategy announced last week will be implemented. The plan calls for 30,000 more U.S. troops in the next months to target the insurgency and also train additional Afghan security forces.

But lately, some Afghans are drifting towards the Taliban, claiming that the group provides them with law and order and protecting them from the criminal elements within the Afghan authorities.

One farmer in the Helmand province earlier this year explained. Although he was seeing success at his farm, he has had trouble with the government. He says officials tell him that some of the land belongs to them but he disagrees. Because of that, he said, he is forced to go to the Taliban.

To combat charges like this, Karzai created a new anti-corruption task force. Their first high-profile case? The mayor of Kabul.

The mayor Sahebi refutes his conviction with documents he says prove that Afghanistan's attorney general was trying to get him to illegally evict people from land plots in the city. When Sahebi refused, he says, he was charged on what he says are totally baseless claims.

So for now, the question of corruption is still top of mind for many Afghans and the international community, while a mayor convicted of corruption remains in office accusing the country's anti-corruption task force of being corrupt.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. ahmad

    Democracy cannot be independant from religion, Israel is democracy but their laws are based on their religious values, US is democracy but their senators still have to listen to thier bishops before voting for a bill that dictates the terms of language on abortion. So let it be in Islam too, let their parliament decide for women to have head scarf when they go out what is wrong as long as they have women representitive voting for that, but the basic right is woman education, for instance Islam does not say don't go to school. As I said Democracy is never perfect and does not have a form, every nation shoud say "we the people". Look at our democracy here in United States are we complete? Of course not. But we still try to be the best we could. If you read the constitution in Afghanistan it is very modern but mullahs and Sheikhs voted on that as an Islamic constitution. So why other nations do not follow this example. Of course there are very extremism voices in any religion or any school of thought, but they are always minorities. Let me tell you the only thing al-Qaida and its terrorist allies are afraid of is the true Islam. If US and its allies promote moderat Islam it will be not different than moderate christianity or Judaism or HInduism. If they do that moderates will themself marginalise the extremism. The main policy we are following is right: empower the people they will eventually take care of their mess and and for sure these nations will be the true partners for the modern world no doubt about it.
    For this to happen US should start with its allies Saudi Arabia and oil producing sheikhs are the most unpopular undemocratic and repressive regimes in the world, can't we force them to give more right to their people? Of course we can, if we do so who will follow Osama and the like. I guess if anyone say what they do is Islamic it is pathatic.

    January 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JMPotratz

    Democracy?? Are you kidding me? They only have loyalty to family, clan and tribe. They've never accepted any form of national government and never will. Democracy? What a stupid question! Every dime spent there is a waste of tax dollars.

    December 19, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. msmac123

    I do not think democracy will work because the country as been a tribal society since
    man walked up rite! They don't want us there and we should not be. Let them deal with
    their own iternal problems as we should be dealing with ours.

    December 18, 2009 at 5:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. Allen N Wollscheidt

    Can democracy work in Afghanistan ?

    Indeed !

    "Can democracy work in the United States ?" - is a more cogent question.

    The ability of our population to look after its own interests is on a precipitous dcline !

    December 18, 2009 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Xasthur

    The U.S. only supports democracy when it is in it's strategic or economic interests.

    Usually, the U.S. prefers despotic tyrants and brutal dictators to be in charge who will do the U.S.'s bidding and share the wealth of the country with U.S. investors or invest it in wall street.

    The U.S. recently supported democratic elections in Palestine. When the people voted for Hamas, the Israeli/U.S. alliance immediately crushed the Palestinians for daring to vote the wrong way.

    December 17, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BlackCat

    The US government is 100% corrupt, but it is all nice and LEGAL because the majority have no voice. NO government in power wants democracy. If you want democracy, then vote in Online surveys. Voting in the On-line surveys will help the On-line sites raise money for farther enhancements in security, user interface, better computers, and better networks. When the On-line surveys become more trusted than the old government, then people can vote out the old governments using the On-line surveys and thereby have PURE DEMOCRACY. Different On-line sites will serve as checks and balances against others - instead of the current system where one group of elites serves as a check and balance against another group of elites.

    December 17, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob Ramos

    No war has ever been won in Afghanistan without the support of the Afghan people. This coming year may be the pivotal year in which the Afghans will decide which way to go. That's when Obama's strategy announced last week will be implemented. The plan calls for 30,000 more U.S. troops in the next months to target the insurgency and also train additional Afghan security forces.


    There is no real way to win in Afghan. We threw away all chances of that in 2002 when we invaded Iraq and ignored Afghan.

    Democracy may or may not, be right for Afghan. Only the folks there can decide and not us.

    December 17, 2009 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. The Professor

    Isn't it time to end our arrogant, hypocritical adventure into Nation Building, the favorite idea of the right-wing extremists in the good ole USA?

    How would we like it if a Dictatorship came to the United States and a attempted to build a dictatorhip here? OOps - we already had that attempt under Bush – Cheney and their friends. Then, with good sense, we rejected it and elected Obama – Biden.

    Now we have the NO Party doing everything they can to reject movement toward an improved health care bill and any other fair and balanced bill that would improve the lives of average income Americans.

    GOP = Benefactors of the top 1% of income earners in the USA. And, the rest of us, per Republican doctrine, can go to "heck".

    December 16, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Billy Bob

    Democracy will not be achieved in Afghan until the Afghans want it. We nor any other country can force a country to become a democratic society. Afghanistan cannot be won, we dont know who we are fighting, The Taliban, Al Queda, War Lords, Wannabe War Lords, Iran is in Afghanistan as well, we are fighting them. The people, the ones who say we are friends with whoever is in power that day in their region is the problem and the solution, they need to step up, a Civil War has to come about for that country to become Democratic, We are doing nothing there but getting killed and looking like idiots to the world. Until the people of Afhgan step up, nothing will change, there will be good stretches or rather quiet stretches and not quiet stretches with regards to attacks and bombings but the country will not ever become a democratic society until an Afghan steps up and takes lead in the bring the Country together not just one remote region.

    December 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joseph Leff

    No, democracy will not work in Afghanistan. The people succumb to their tribal leaders who are opposed to anything resembling democracy.

    December 16, 2009 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. Art

    Democracy in Afghanistan, I don't think so. Are we going to change there religion? It's going to be a long time before that country is anything but what it is. Bring the troops home now! Lets have a national vote! "We the people" can do this.

    December 16, 2009 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. Abdulameer

    How is it possible to write an article about the possibility of democracy in Afghanistan without mentioning what dominates and motivates the hearts and minds of the Afghan people - namely, the religion and ideology of Islam? Without taking Islam into account, any such discussion is, at best, useless. The real name of the country, by the way, is "The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan", and NOT "Afghanistan". Why do you suppose that is? What do you suppose is the significance of this? The name is not just pulled from a hat arbitrarily. The constitution of The Islamic Republic Afghanistan says that ALL laws must be in accordance with the laws of Islam, that is, in accordance with the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad. Right away this precludes anything like democracy as we understand the term. It automatically eliminates the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution, especially our First Amendment. In Islam, the election of legislators is permitted, but only for the purpose of implementing Shariah law because, in Islam, the only authority for determining what is right and wrong is Allah as expressed in the Koran, the sayings of Muhammad and Shariah law. Human rights, as we understand the term, cannot exist in an Islamic country. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, just like ALL other Moslem countries, rejects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supports the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam which declares that Islam is superior to all other religions and that ALL human rights must be derived from and be in accordance with Islamic Shariah law. So, the answer to the question, Can Democracy Work in Afghanistan?, is a resounding NO.

    December 16, 2009 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. jackie Chin

    Technology has made the world very small and integrated. A training camp in Afghanistan can be a staging area to attacked anywhere in the world within one day's flight. The rule of engagement is so different- suicidal attack will never be contemplated in the West while it is routine in the Islam country..... The threat perceived by the West can only be eliminated by bringing Afghanistan and other similar territories to a Western way of life and value – which is beyond reach and politically incorrect. Obama's policy is dome to fail because of the fundamental.

    December 16, 2009 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. Nassir Azimi

    It is naive of US leaders to think that we can bring a US "trained" politician like Karzai and force him on the Afghan people. The people )although mostly lacking in education" are not stupid. They see through this current corruption and government. They realize Karzai's motivation. His desires are not a peaceful or soverign afghanistan.... He simply wants to enrich himself and his corrupt cronys.

    The future of Afghanistan should be at the hands of a more pure leader who has its long term sruvival in mind. Karzai is not that person. The sooner the US leaders see this the more succeful the effort.

    December 16, 2009 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. jangocat

    No it cant work because these people think like bronze age primitives. They are a nation of followers who value tradition over progress. You can lead a horse to water but you cant make him drink.

    December 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Leon

    Democracy works in the West (admittedly imprefectly, but to a far greater degree than in the Mid-East/Central Asia) because the West spent roughly 3000 years slowly progressing toward it. No Western nation went from Augustus Caesar to Parliament in 8 years – and none could have. And even the Western democracy is a far-cry from error-free.

    Those who want to 'democratize' the world are extremely naive if they believe you can invade a country and say, "Skip the Greek Golden Age, skip the Renaissance, skip the Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment too; just make with the the democracy already."

    I don't mean to sound condescending, but this is the best analogy I can come up with on the spot: It's like an adult putting an infant behind the wheel of a car and saying, "We're all humans, so we should all be driving."

    This is true for every non-Western country, from Russia to China to Zimbabwe. The greater a society's cultural distance from Western historical experiences (see above), the less likely those societies will be able to estabilsh a functional and sustainable democracy. The unpalatable truth of life is that brutal dictatorships are a necessary step on the path to developing a democracy.

    All this is especially true for Muslim societies who have been locked in a culture that produces Islam and nothing but Islam. Societies whose religion has essentially kept them locked in the 7 Century for over 1000 years.

    December 11, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Riyadh

    you know it is really amazing to me how few people actually know what is going on in this world. I don't say this to redicule or put down anyone, fact is many people in western society believe only what their governments want them to believe via the media. Does anyone actually think this is about heroin trade? or simply instilling a demcocracy govnt in iraq and afghanistan? The answer is not really. Why is the US UK UN so intersted in putting a democractic state in these countries? That is what you have to ask yourself, not if it cna succeed in Afghanistan but WHY should we try and implement this ideology?

    First the poster "jaime" above put it best. You can not have democracy in coutnry that puts Islam above all else. IT WILL NEVER WORK! EVER! To ask the Afghani people puppet government to do this, will not matter, they will then always have termoil in that region. The UN was succeful infiltrating the Ottoman Empire by impleneting spies with in, as we all know the best way to take down an Empire is from within. They then put their own puppet governments in coutnries such as Turkey, Jordan, Saudi, Egypt etc and call these countries Muslim coutnries.

    That is not reality, they are not muslim countries and thus are trying to do the same with Afghanistant and Iraq.

    Why do you ask? It goes back many many many years ago to the attack on relgion, all of the great religions that were sent down by god (Allah – subhanwatallah) the great hebrew religion sent to prophet Abrahem (peace be upon him) with the Torah. The attack on Jeudiasm, the end result was reformed Jeudiasm. The attack on the Injeel, the Gospel, that was sent down by God all mighty, the omnipotent, the creater of the heavens and in the earth and all living things, sent to Prophet Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him), where Jesus himself preached believe in the one TRUE GOD, he was just the messanger. The end rest of the attack on Christianity are the many different sects and religions that people have maniuplated over the years and of course materialism and secularism, seperation as posters above me pointed, from Chuch and State.

    In other words, if you do not see it, it does not exist. If you do not see god, it does not exist, full blown materialism folks. and the Attack on Islam as we see it today, but the US and UK and UN are wasting their time. Islam will never defeated simply put, Muslims have more fear in GOD (Allah-subhanwatallah) then any form of government, man made government. Why is that? Humans are imperfect, we have many flaws, and we can not be trusted into making a system of life for ourselves, greed will eventually seep in and thus inequality will exist. The true system of life which Allah sent down with the Torah before it was changed and the Gospel before it was change, and finally with the last Prophet on earth, sent down as a final mercy to all of huminity, the Quran. Those are the true system of how to leave a peaceful and equal life folks wake up.

    Afghanistan will NEVER be succomb to any invasion. The Chinese Dynasty's have tried, the Russians have tried and the US/UK/UN invasion is trying but it will never work. As prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) told everyone, the place of Khorasan will never be occupied.

    You really have to ask yourselfs this, who is really behind all this? Why all these attacks on religion? As a poseter above said, untill Afghani's learn to treat women equally and childeren equally etc etc....might I humbly remidn you that in teh US about 50 years ago no long ago, balcks and whites were seperated. they had different rules, women didnt have the same rights as men, couldnt vote, couldnt work etc etc etc....500 years ago, in medieval Europe people were burying daughters when they were born...the great deceit by the media has people believe that Islam treats Women and children differently then men when in reality is different. We are all equal! During the days of prophet Mohammed, Islam abolished slavery, Islam gave women rights to work, own land, vote etc....this was more then 1400 years ago! Yet the great country of the US and A didnt have human equality oh up until 60 years ago and yet they want to show the world how to live?

    people wake up! Look at who the real terrorists are, dont be fooled, but I am one of you, who we are kidding? We spend our days and nites salving and working 5- 60 hours who cares about god, about anything really as long as i get my check every two weeks or every week and provide for my family I dont care. I dont blame you, that is how we have been condition systimcally to think. It is very sad.

    December 11, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Ms. J

    This is less about Democracy and more about a breeding ground for terrorists in a country that is muscled by the Taliban who in many instances are working directly with al Qaeda. If no one does anything to eliminate that reality, al Qaeda will continue to grow and pose a threat beyond Afghanistan to every corner of the globe. That's it. The average person in Afghanistan just wants to be left alone; they have no concept of loyalty to a country, it's about being protected by their local tribe and being left alone. The main crop is the heroin and opium which goes in and out of the country thanks to either the Taliban or local tribes or both. It's an endless problem that must be addressed, or the jihad that has been established will only get bigger. You can count on it. Pull out of Afghanistan and you think the problem will go away? Not a chance.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  19. Dragginbutt in Virginia

    Mr Perrier's comments only illustrate the ignorance displayed by many that follow the media reports. For one, this is not a "Muslim" problem. The fact that they are living in a Muslim country does not by default condemn all Muslims or their religion. While it is true that some radical extremists DO quote the qouran, and use their religion to their own benefit, it does nto mean all Muslims agree with their tactics or politics. I Feel that most Muslims in the area only want peace, and to feel safe. If the Government can't provide this, they will turn to those who can, even if they rule by intimidation and cruelty. It may not be the best system in the world, but it is their system. They understand it's rules, and know how to live within it's sandbox. I also think that given a choice, they will always choose the system of government that gives them the most HOPE. Right now, the Karzai governmeent is not doing that. I agree with many that the US's policy of attempting to re-create the world in its own image is not serving anyone. Unless we can detach from this active use of force, we cannot ever hope to win a true victory. Time will show, that the people will eventually get to the point where they say enough is enough. For those of you who wish to provide commentary on subjects such as this, please do a little research and attempt to understand the issues before spreading pure garbage. Think before you type.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  20. RichP the Pocono's

    Nope, not from the top down which is the US approach, the tribes run the country, if democracy is to be considered it needs to start at that level and work up. Listen to the special forces people that the military has had living with them, oh I forgot, the special forces don't know what they are talking about, the politicians and diplomats in their ivory towers on the other hand are the experts.
    As far as our country, those same politicians are driving us towards a very bad situation, more and more citizens are getting fed up with DC so we may not be the best examples in the world anymore..

    December 11, 2009 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  21. bamboo

    We have no business invading and occupying this country, and “installing” a so called democracy. Democracy is not “installed”; it is the fruit of a struggling people’s labor and desires.
    It is not our right to install a different form of government anywhere except in the US.
    And we do not have a democracy here so let’s not pretend to be a model for the world. What the invasion of Afghanistan is all about is protecting the Caspian oil pipeline, and protecting the CIA’s bumper crop of opium; oh and yes, wink wink, it is about looking for Osama bin Bush.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  22. Rick

    Fundamentally, at their base level, people are the same the world over, regardless of whether they are in the first world or the third world. Generally, they want a roof over their head, they want an occupation, they want a family and they want security. It doesn't matter if it's Afghanistan or America, those needs and wants are the universal. And, I believe, they would generally want a say in their government. We see over and over again in places which have no history of democracy, including Afghanistan, huge turnouts in those first few voting excercises, in spite of threats to personal safety. The notion that citizens of Afghanistan don't want or couldn't function with democracy is a ludicrous myth and already demonstrateably false.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  23. ima goodblogger

    In short no it wont.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  24. Ben

    Democracy or any form of civilized government is impossible in that region as long as religion maintains a central role in their lives. Since no one is entertaining the idea of creating a secular government there, any efforts to install a stable government where the rights of women and non-muslims are respected are doomed to fail miserably. The only reason our government has been so successful was that the founding fathers wisely insisted on a separation of church and state.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  25. Jaime

    The problem is in Afghanistan they place religion above all things which is fine, that is their culture. Democracy works in America because of seperation of church and state. For many Islam nations that doesnt work because their religious system is embedded with their political system. to make a primarily Islamic state into a democracy is like asking many to choose between Islam and politics. Who are we to force a nation into democracy? If the people CHOOSE to become a democratic nation then good for them if they choose NOT to be a democratic then thats fine in the hope that the new government doesn't hold any ill will towards another nation.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |