Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape

Article excerpt

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape. By Noah Coburn and Anna Larson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.304 pp. $50.

The international intervention in Afghanistan that began after the attack on the United States on 9/11 has taken on many forms, some more successful than others. Cobum, a political anthropologist at Bennington College, and Larson of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, focus on elections, critiquing that effort not only in its Afghan specifics, but in its larger context, as part of other and similar international interventions.

The authors provide a detailed analysis of what went progressively wrong with the implementation of elections in Afghanistan, which were supported and funded by the international community. Democracy-promoting "workshops," for example, complete with flip-chart presentations attended by drowsy participants were largely pointless but, nevertheless, were favored by aid agencies because attendance figures produced an easily quantifiable result. Even more troubling is the authors' description of funding "spikes" for elections shortly before they occurred, which were offset by substantial underfunding between campaigns of efforts to sustain democratization.

Yet while the authors demonstrate the problems in international efforts to create a viable electoral democracy in Afghanistan, the images that emerge of its successes are at least as compelling. …

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