Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Elections in Afghanistan

The Afghan  Election Commission has decided that the recent elections  of representatives were marred by corruption.

But nobody seems to have noticed that holding elections, American style, in Afghanistan is a complete absurdity. There are at least two good reasons for that.

In the first place the Afghan people have not chosen to hold elections. The American military imposed that political system upon them.

Is an electoral system adopted under duress a free political system? Democratic elections are a way in which the people can run their lives. Does forcing people to hold elections put them in charge of their political life, or does it force them to follow a ritual that makes very little sense in their cultural and political situation?

In the second place, a democratic system consists of a whole lot more than periodic elections. Most precious about our freedoms are not our elections but our liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Those liberties, in turn, are valuable only to the extent that our court system functions well and protects us when our liberties are violated by fellow citizens or, more often, by the democratically elected government.

Moreover, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution are valuable only as long as citizens value them enough to be willing to fight the government when it threatens our liberties. Today there are constant arguments about our liberties, about the separation of church and state, about the limits of government efforts to benefit citizens  by forcing them, for instance, to buy health insurance.

Our freedoms are an important topic in our national life. American liberties will disappear when we are too busy or too preoccupied with other matters to complain about limitations on freedom of speech and religion, when we do not protest police interference with our liberties, when we no longer care about the violations of freedoms of other citizens.

How many of these conditions does Afghanistan meet? Do they have a functioning court system that defends individual liberties with due care and dispatch? Are their citizens ready and able to protest what appear to them to be threats to their individual liberties? Do they protest when they see religion and the government too closely intertwined?

The answers to these questions are clearly in the negative. The liberal sentiments that have animated American politics for more than 200 years are not a part of Afghan culture. How often do Afghans say to each other: "this is a free country"? That is not the way they think about themselves.

The lesson is clear: the elections in Afghanistan are completely beside the point. They are a forced imposition by the American military. They are imposed in an environment where periodic elections will not amount either to democracy or, even less, to a free society.