April elections: a Shared Societies opportunity for Afghanistan?

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

History in Afghanistan has as many twists and turns as one can ever imagine. And a new one could be in the making. This could be surprising for some but for the first time in many years the next elections, to be held this April, will feature 11 presidential tickets and all of them will be ethnically diverse. All tribes have their leaders separated and represented in various presidential candidate teams and that triggers a question: is the era of ethnic divisions, that had its climax during the civil war (1992-1996) over?

The answer to this kind of complex questions about Afghanistan will hardly consist in a simple “yes” or “no” but the good news is that it is “probably yes” or “partly yes” (for instance check out this article with the four main questions on the table regarding the elections). As Helena Malykar, Afghan political analyst and historian said in her Al Jazeera report:

The ousting of the Taliban by the US-led military forces at the end of 2001 and establishment of a new regime based on democracy, equal rights and freedoms, has offered Afghans a new environment. During the last decade, while Machiavellian games for power have continued to be played, a wave of change has also made its way into the society, especially among the young generation of Afghans. Changing values are slowly transforming this nation and this shift is quietly, but fundamentally challenging the old ways.

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

It’s true that the reasons why all the presidential tickets are integrating leaders from different backgrounds might not be very clear. The rumors in Kabul point to President Karzai as having a lot to do with this refound diversity in an attempt to control the process. Others think it is not a convictions/ideals driven process but calculation on the part of the candidates themselves. And yes, the common visions and programs may mean little but the fact is that the younger generation is striving for a better quality of life and better public services like education, health care or infrastructure rather than focusing on ethnic issues. As Malykar says

there are clear and present signs that voters may transcend ethnic and sectarian dividing lines during the April presidential elections. Whether the division of votes will be motivated by immediate material gain or based on a forward-looking vision, remains to be seen.

Therefore the process in Afghanistan towards a Shared Society is both challenging and promising. The fact that all the presidential tickets will be ethnically mixed at least opens the door to implement three of the Shared Societies Commitments and Approaches on Inter-Community Development: “take steps to reduce tensions and hostility between communities”, “initiate a process to encourage the creation of a shared vision of society” and “promote respect, understanding and appreciation of diversity

 

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