In my professional life, I have gone to Afghanistan on humanitarian relief trips several times. I have witnessed their strength and resilience but also their suffering and challenges that they have endured as a result of years of strife and war. Many have had their families torn apart, and countless more are unable to put food on the table that is why there’s an urgent need for democracy in Afghanistan.
However, Afghan people, whether they be Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, or Uzbek, have always desired a prosperous country that is free of foreign intervention and that respects their culture and religious beliefs.
The risks that are surrounding Afghanistan
While the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan provides Afghan people with an opportunity to govern in their own country, it also puts at risk the progress made in the establishment of democratic institutions.
Many countries have voiced their opposition to a Taliban-run state. The fact is that reestablishing confidence with the international community in the Taliban’s commitment to protecting freedoms and rights will be a lengthy and difficult process. To move on from the previous two decades of violence and earn international recognition, Afghanistan must undergo a process of social and civic reform.
Partners in humanitarian relief efforts throughout the world have a unique insight on how to advance sustainable democracy in developing countries. As a result of my travels, I have seen both countries that have failed to build democratic institutions and those that use democracy as a cover for corruption and autocratic governments. Based on my own perspectives, Afghanistan must undergo a multi-stage democratic restoration process to truly succeed.
Reinforcing Democratic Institutions
Building the country’s social cohesiveness, investing in its people, and adopting democratic institutions are the highest priorities at this time. This is dependent on the provision of peace and security and the participation of civil society organizations, whose opinions must be heard. The general population must also feel secure not just in their daily lives, but also in their rights to freedoms, liberties, and participation.
The transitional government should be focused on a single objective – achieving political stability – which is required to ensure that democratic institutions are upheld. The parliament is essential to this, and the country should enable and support political plurality, as well as the registration of new political parties, in the next elections. Once elected, the country’s security will be dependent on the Parliament’s commitment to combating corruption, violence, extremism, radicalism, any kind of discrimination, and terrorism, among other things.
Investing in the Economy
It is critical for the country’s key industries to continue to flourish in the future. These industries include agricultural and animal production, trades and handicrafts, manufacturing, and transportation, just to name a few. In order to develop local businesses, investment in developing capacity is required, with a particular emphasis on young Afghans and women.
Foreign investment must be managed, and the conditions for this include defined policies, regulations, and mechanisms that regulate the investment. Institutions must be in place, and anti-corruption and fraud legislation must be enacted and put into effect as soon as possible.
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Other examples have demonstrated that a country controlled by civil society, with the military and security forces refraining from interfering in public affairs, is important to ensure that foreign investment is spent for the benefit of the general population.
This is a vital time for the government to consult with the general population in order to create unity. The Afghan people must be given the opportunity to vote on the future of their country through a referendum, which will serve as a litmus test for their capacity to navigate through this critical juncture in the country’s history. The parliament, civil society groups, and the general public should all be invited to participate in such a vote.
Afghanistan has been ranked among the world’s top 10 humanitarian disasters for more than four decades, during which time the nation has been immersed in one conflict after another. As a result of the withdrawal of coalition forces, violence has increased, and the number of refugees fleeing the country has increased as well. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, encouraged the international community to remain committed to the country and asked for more help for refugees, internally displaced persons, and returnees.
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If the country does not properly transition to democracy, it will experience a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any other in recent history, and the country will regress, with potentially catastrophic results.
Dr. Hany El-Banna founded Islamic Relief in 1984, one of the largest humanitarian aid organizations globally, and traveled to 80 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries. He is also the founder of The Humanitarian Forum which is now called The World Humanitarian Action Forum (WHAF). Dr El-Banna also holds an MBBCh, MD and an Honorary Doctorate (DUniv). He has been awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his humanitarian service.