Hybrid democracy: electoral rules and political competition in Afghanistan – an interview with Aureo Toledo, by Victor Thives

Departing from the literature on peacebuilding and electoral studies, professor Aureo Toledo treats democratization in Afghanistan as a hybridization process in his article Hybrid democracy: electoral rules and political competition in Afghanistan, published in RBPI (Vol. 61, n. 1 – 2018). Why do a fragile party system and non-democratic campaign practices persist in Afghanistan? To understand the resilience of non-democratic practices and the fragility of Afghan democracy, Toledo argues that one must bear in mind the interplay between an electoral system that provides institutional incentives for the fragmentation of political parties and the cultivation of a personalistic vote, and how elites, organizations, and citizens respond to them.

His conclusions challenge the type of analyses that overestimate the so-called intrinsic problems of the Afghan society, underplaying the role of international actors or even the political economy of electoral competition in Afghanistan. Moreover, his analytical framework is a new manner of connecting the electoral studies and peacebuilding literatures, which could shed light on other hybridization processes concerning elections in post-conflict realities. Professor Toledo was interviewed by Victor Thives, member of the editorial team of RBPI, regarding his views on topics related to his work.

In August 2017, the Trump administration outlined a new strategy to Afghanistan, focused mostly on fighting terrorism, but with no emphasis on nation-building, democracy nor human rights issues, and, moreover, with no deadline to troops withdrawal. Given your article’s framework and findings, how do you evaluate this shift on the United States strategy, considering its importance in providing stability in Afghanistan?

Since 2001 the state-building operation in Afghanistan is driven by a light footprint strategy. In other words, the U.S. never wanted much involvement in the country, and the focus was mainly on the military dimension. For instance, when compared to the operation in Iraq, Afghanistan was sidelined, although President Obama had argued for a more consistent focus in the country. Additionally, despite the rhetoric of democracy and human rights, the resources to rule-of-law and democratization were never enough. Taking this context into consideration, it is my understanding that the Trump approach to Afghanistan is not a novelty. In a way, is more of the same and it won’t stabilize the country.

How do you think president Ghani’s peace proposal earlier this year to Taliban – which, among other things, offered the terrorist group political recognition – can shape the democratization process the country is going through? Could the fragile democracy in Afghanistan be consolidated before the issue with Taliban is solved?

Three things are worth mentioning here. First, as I said before, the U.S approach to stabilizing Afghanistan has always favored the military dimension of the problem, which, due to all the issues the country face, is not enough. Additionally, with the withdrawal of troops during the Obama administration, the Taliban started to rise again throughout the country. Rumor has it that nowadays the group is present on at least 70% of the territory. Supported by the Pashtuns – the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan –, the Taliban is a tremendous political force. If the Afghan state could project power throughout the country, perhaps this proposal would not be at the table now. Therefore, there is the need for a political solution, not only a military solution, and the peace proposal seems a good starting point. Second, even though the plan is attractive, it is not new. For instance, President Ghani signed something similar with former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which shows that the Afghan government is trying to find political solutions to this quagmire. Finally, an issue that should be dealt with is related to the transitional justice dimension: once the Taliban is given political recognition, what about war crimes committed by the group? The scenario will be extremely complex in the coming years.

As you have shown in your article, today’s Afghanistan experiences intense foreign political interference. Furthermore, it strongly benefits from external economic aid – more than half of the country’s budget comes from foreign assistance. How can the international community and the Afghan leaders assure the country won’t collapse when foreign interference ceases?

I would like to have an optimistic answer, but the truth is that there are no guarantees. From a historical perspective, Afghanistan has always depended on foreign assistance. In the 1970s, for instance, approximately 90% of the country’s budget was composed of external resources. There are some projects underway, like channeling 50% of foreign aid through the national budget and aligning 80% of external resources to national priorities. However, without improving Afghan capacities to raise domestic revenues, and helping the central government to depend less on foreign donors the risk of collapse will be just around the corner.

In your article, you point out the lack of national unity as one of the significant problems undermining the state-building process in Afghanistan. What can be done to prevent that in the medium and long-term the strong sectarian and ethnic split among the Afghan people won’t lead Afghanistan to a process of balkanization?

I think we can approach the question from two perspectives. Institutionally speaking, one strategy would be a different institutional design for the country, which takes into consideration the ethnic differences across the country. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, considering the unstable circumstances of that moment and the idea that Afghanistan could not afford to have a weak central authority, international supporters and local elites opted for a system that emphasized presidential authority. Perhaps now it would be interesting to debate a federative solution, although I think there are no political conditions for that. Historically speaking, the origins of the Afghan state are due to a diplomatic treaty between the British Empire and Czarist Russia. Even though Afghanistan was never a formal colony, the territory we have today was consolidated from outside in, and all the ethnic groups were forced to live together under the rule of a small elite. These events point to the fact that Afghanistan has historically suffered from international interventions. Therefore, in light of this history, perhaps a good starting point would be fewer interferences from foreign actors in a country where its people, at least in the last 25 years, is struggling to survive.

Read the article

Gomes, Aureo. (2018). Hybrid democracy: electoral rules and political competition in Afghanistan. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1), e007. Epub July 16, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201800107

About the authors

Aureo de Toledo Gomes – Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, Institute of Economics and International Relations, MG, Brazil (aureotoledo@gmail.com)

Victor Thives holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Brasilia and he is part of the editorial team of RBPI.

How to cite this interview

aclessa, "Hybrid democracy: electoral rules and political competition in Afghanistan – an interview with Aureo Toledo, by Victor Thives," in Instituto Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais, 03/09/2018, http://www.ibri-rbpi.org/?p=16427.

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