Democracy in Colonial Areas

Throughout the second millennium one of the defining realities of international relations was colonialism. European powers did everything they could do spread their influence around the globe, leading to realities like, “the sun never set on the British empire”. It was through such colonies that the United States came to being, becoming the world’s first modern democracy. As many other colonies divorced themselves from their parent nations some adopted democratic governments, however others merely moved themselves to autocratic rule by natives.

Though Afghanistan was never formally a colony of any European nation, many of them treated it almost as if it was. Specifically, England and Russia vied to extend their sphere of influence by way of Afghanistan. Historically, Afghanistan has served as a crossroads between the Indian subcontinent, north-central Asian, and Europe. In this respect it is geographically similar to Israel, which served as a crossroads between Asia, Africa, and Europe. One of the common trends in history is that areas that serve as a crossroads for trade also act as a cross roads for ideas. Therefore, one might expect that Afghanistan would benefit from the passing of ideas, and grow a culture of intellectualism. The result in Afghanistan, however, was anything but democracy, it was a bloody trail of attempted authoritarian patriarchies.

The reason for this is that the European nations treated Afghanistan as a vassal state, effectively there to facilitate the passage of goods. As a result, the thing that they valued above all else was stability. Most governments that went from authoritarian states to democratic ones had to go through a revolutionary period after which they stabilized. This perceived time of instability would have been viewed as unacceptable, particularly to Britain, which was the center of European intellectualism, who needed Afghanistan as a land passageway to their Indian colonies. Authoritarian governments provide the illusion of stability, there is no threat of peasant revolts or other such things when they can be brutally suppressed by the army. However, viewed objectively authoritarian governments tend to provide very week stability guarantees, this is particularly true in the case of Afghanistan.

One of the few constants in Afghanistan’s history was bloody warfare, particularly fratricide, and other wars for the crown (not that Afghanistan was really a monarchy). It is impossibly to read the first chapters of Rasanayagam without losing track of the number of times that the leadership entity has changed, or someone had killed their brother attempting to become the head of state. However, the European powers wouldn’t have necessarily viewed this internal warfare as problematic, so long as the internal conflicts weren’t directed at them, and did not represent a threat Afghanistan’s geographic role as a crossroads, it wasn’t a threat to them, and thus was acceptable. The fact that most colonial European nations were not democracies themselves only contributed to their failure to consider the longterm benefits of a democratic government, which have a far greater tendency towards stability; the United States, for example, maintains the world’s oldest government (ignoring the now defunct European monarchies, which while some technically remain in existence, do not serve as the primary executors of national policy any longer).