Building Democracy in Afghanistan

“Is it possible to see the emergence of a viable democratic state in Afghanistan, or not?” Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta asked at a Center for American Progress event on February 26. At the event, Spanta focused on whether democracy was possible in Afghanistan and what strategies could aid in the democratization process.

Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at the Center, moderated the discussion. deLeon noted that the Obama administration is currently grappling with serious challenges in Afghanistan, as it attempts to conduct a major review of American strategy, which is expected to be released in conjunction with the upcoming 60th anniversary summit of the NATO alliance in April. Spanta praised the administration for bringing his government and its neighbor Pakistan into the discussion; forging a comprehensive strategy for building a prosperous and democratic Afghanistan “is a very serious matter,” he said, and “a matter of the future of my country.”

The massive constitutional, executive, and parliamentary changes that have occurred in the country in the last seven years can serve as evidence of democratic advancement, Spanta said. And the more than 500 newspapers, 20 private television channels, 80-90 radio stations, and numerous interest groups—especially women’s—are all pushing Afghanistan toward democratization. These media outlets continue to be key to engaging the public and overcoming the hurdles of the past. “Democracy,” commented Dr. Spanta, “is not only desirable for Afghan people; it is a necessity in order to overcome the fundamentalist legacy.”

Spanta noted that international forces have been deployed for more than seven years in Afghanistan, and he recognized the service and sacrifice American men and women have made there. Despite these efforts, he acknowledged, the Taliban-led insurgency remains a serious threat to the country, and he urged the United States, its allies, and other regional partners not to abandon the efforts for a "reductionist" approach.

Progress in Afghanistan, Spanta argued, will require a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes "security, sustainable development, and good governance." With respect to sustainability, he emphasized that Afghanistan’s environment was significantly affected by war and by climate change, and efforts would need to be made to repair environmental problems such as fighting drought and rebuilding worn infrastructure.

Acknowledging that corruption in Afghan institutions will need to be addressed, Spanta reported that while “last year 621 mid-level and senior officials have been prosecuted or fired, including administrators, governors, and an ambassador, Afghanistan will continue to confront administrative corruption.”

He made clear that the major issue in the fight against corruption and terrorism in the country is the cultivation and trafficking of drugs, despite a 19-percent reduction in poppy production last year. Spanta pointed to the necessity of government strength in dealing with drug-related problems. “If you want to get rid of poppy cultivation,” he stressed, “the capability of the Afghan government must be strengthened across Afghanistan.”

A broader security approach among U.S., NATO, and Pakistani colleagues would be needed, Spanta said, and Pakistan’s huge population and nuclear power make it the greatest potential danger to peace in the region. He stressed that, “If Pakistan became a failed state it would be serious not only for the U.S. and Afghanistan but for the entire region.” Afghanistan is committed to a stronger relationship with Pakistan based on trust and built on joint negotiations with the new civilian government, and he encouraged the United States and its allies to find commonality with Pakistan.

Spanta concluded by saying that, “as we have discussed on many occasions, democratization [in Afghanistan] is vital today and in the future.” While democracy is universally applicable and Afghan citizens are ready to accept constitutional government and modern values, Spanta cautioned that “it [democratization] is not a project that can be exported or given: It takes time to develop and to flourish.”

For more on this event, please visit the events page.