Fornication, bare flesh and a descent into Western decadence — these are Afghan definitions of democracy that expose how little the foreign concept has permeated the national psyche as elections near.
Afghanistan will vote on August 20 in its second “democratic” presidential election but centuries of tribalism, decades of war and the draconian legacy of the Taliban ensure that confusion still reigns over what voting will bring.
“Western democracy is freedom and fornication. This is democracy for Western, American and European people and it is developing the same way here,” said Wasim, a 28-year-old waiter in a Kabul kebab restaurant.
Mansoor Aslami, 21, a cosmetics shop owner, defines democracy as a boy and girl walking together on the street without being questioned, and is less than keen on some of the trends he sees among his patrons.
“I see signs of democracy among customers with bare arms and necks, but so long as democracy is according to Islam, it is good,” he said. Eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban, much of conservative Afghan society has little understanding of democracy and sees it synonymous with a moral decline from traditional Islamic values, analysts say.
Afghanistan flirted with democracy in the 1960s and 1970s by holding limited parliamentary elections but the experiment was squashed with the 1979 Soviet invasion that set off decades of civil war and foreign intervention.
The 1996-2001 Taliban government banned music and dancing, ordered men not to shave, decreed that women wear the burkha and banned girls from attending school. Punishments for violations were brutal.