Under the Cloak of War, a Democracy Grows

Against the backdrop of war that has loomed over Afghanistan for the last three decades, it is easy to overlook the strides taken by democracy over the past two years. While the results of war are direct and easily documented, democracy works in more subtle ways that take longer to produce tangible, concrete results.

In the last two years a democratically elected president and parliament have taken office and have begun the long and arduous process of establishing a stable government that can meet the needs of the people of Afghanistan. We appreciate the vital role America and the international community have played in contributing to this process, and without continued economic and military aid Afghanistan would not be able to meet the many challenges facing our nation. That assistance has not gone unnoticed by our people: in a recent poll 88% of Afghans support the United States’ continued economic assistance in our rebuilding process. There is no question the aid projects undertaken by the international community have alleviated a great deal of the pressure on our parliament, the National Assembly, and have allowed us to focus on governing.

One of the road blocks to effective governance we have faced is the fractured parliament that took office early in 2006. With no organized blocs or caucuses within the National Assembly it was difficult to achieve consensus and pass meaningful legislation. In the past year we have recognized this shortcoming and have adapted, a sign of progress and maturation in our young democracy. In much the same way that political parties function in the US Congress, political groups allow members of parliament who share the same broad ideas to come together, achieve strength in numbers and work collectively to achieve their goals. In addition, the formation of political groups based on issues that keep in mind the needs of the people will allow us to move away from personality and ego-based groups that have been so destructive to Afghan politics in the past.

With that in mind, not all political parties or groups are good for democracy. There are groups currently forming within the National Assembly whose aim is to destroy the progress we have worked so hard to attain and drastically alter the Afghan Constitution for personal gain. These groups, some of them led by powerful individuals, pose one of the most serious threats to Afghanistan’s future.

However, there are other groups that are materializing based on democratic principles that are gaining momentum in the National Assembly. These groups reject the methods of the communists, the Taliban and the warlords that have previously dominated Afghan politics. They have embraced the concept of an Islamic democracy in Afghanistan and bring a positive message of good governance and equality, a stark contrast to the hate and intolerance being preached even today by some members of the National Assembly and others in government.

One such organization, the Afghanistan Parliamentary Group, was formed recently. The group aims to highlight what government can do within the framework of the current political system and work to create positive change in Afghan society through proactive legislation geared toward the wishes of the people. We recognize that in order for our infant democracy to succeed, we must listen to the will of the people. Too many of our leaders, past and present, have tried to force their vision on Afghans, often to their own benefit and the detriment of the citizens they claim to represent. We cannot allow ourselves to go down this road again.

The Afghanistan Parliamentary Group is also focused on bridging the ethnic, gender, and religious divides that have been tearing our country apart for so many years. For far too long Afghans have been divided against ourselves, allowing our enemies, the enemies of freedom, to remain a powerful force in Afghan society. In order to be successful we must first unite as a nation under the principles of democracy and Islam, and understand that we are Afghans first and that our ethnicity, whether Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara or any other, is secondary to our responsibility as Afghan citizens. As the largest group in the National Assembly we have the ability to begin driving this kind of positive change, and just as important we can and will act to thwart any attempt to undermine or destabilize the democratic process we hold so dear.

Because of the efforts of those committed to Afghanistan’s future, the roots of democracy have taken hold and are beginning to grow. Contrary to many published media reports, progress is being made, and our allies in America and the international community must understand that the advancement of democracy is not something easily quantified. We do not measure progress by the number of Taliban killed or miles of road or new schools built, but rather by how our government evolves over time and how free our people become. Democracy in America has had over two hundred years to flourish; Afghanistan has been a democratic nation for less than five years. If America and the rest of the world maintain their commitment to Afghanistan, our leaders, as evidenced by recent events, will hold up their end of the bargain.