Saturday, 28 July 2007
The Last King of Afghanistan and western democracy
The death earlier this week of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last King of Afghanistan, served to remind many of the era of relative stability that marked much of his reign. Born into the Barakzai dynasty in Kabul in 1914, Zahir Shah ascended the throne in 1933 at the age of nineteen. During his forty year reign he embarked upon a programme of modernisation which resulted in the establishment of a modern education system, the developemnt of cultural and economic relations with the West and the institution, in 1968, of a constitution that introduced free elections, an elected legislature, universal suffrage and female emancipation.
The King's reforms angered religious conservatives and he was subsequently deposed in 1973 whilst undergoing an eye operation in Italy. His kingdom descended into a spiral of violence and factionalism that culminated in the rise of the Taliban and the invasion of 2001. Although he did not advocate for the restoration of the Monarchy, he nevertheless received the honoured style of "Father of the Nation" and was widely regarded as a symbol of national unity.
Had Mohammed Zahir Shah continued to reign until his death he would have reigned for 74 years, easily surpassing the two longest-reigning living monarchs, King Bhumibol (Rama IX) of Thailand and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (and Her other realms).
Taking part in a discussion that touched upon the possibility of restoring the Monarchy in Serbia, Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration, stated "We don't do kings." (The "we" referring to the U.S. Government). This lamentable statement, which so clearly demonstrated Albright's blinkered, and wholly ignorant, attitude to the subject--an ignorance rooted in the prejudice engendered by fanatical allegiance to a one-size fits all concept of goverment, reinforced through the zealous repetition of the hollow mantra of "freedom and democracy" so beloved of spokesmen for the United States Government--reveals a major problem with United States policy.
Monarchy is the natural form of government for many states around the world. Western democracy took centuries to evolve and is part of the historical and cultural fabric of western civilisation. Any attempt to transplant our uniquely tailored system to countries such as Afghanistan is doomed to fail and will merely add credence to fanatical accusations of western imperialism.
The most stable and tolerant Islamic regions are almost all Monarchies. In a region where separation of Mosque and State is far from complete, a benevolent, Islamic king holds a degree of religious authority and is able to moderate and counter fundamentalists and also to offer protection to minorities.
The aim of the Western democracies now present in Afghanistan must not be the establishment of a western-style democratic government but, rather, the destruction of radical fundamentalists and the restoration of the traditional Afghan way of life. Blind allegiance to the "Holy Grail" of western-style republican democratic government will doom the current Afghan adventure and will provide clear evidence of the flawed nature of Western policy.