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Exit Strategy out of Afghanistan through Consociationalism

Exit Strategy out of Afghanistan through Consociationalism

Various think tanks are addressing the policy options for America. There are several forks that can lead to a mind-boggling number of permutations and combinations. Political Scientists are using their brains to look at all sorts of options that would fit Afghanistan. This article is a vignette into what experts in International Relations are looking at.

Afghanistan of course is a deeply divided society–the schisms exacerbated by three decades of war. There are various systems that have been developed to deal with societies on the edge. Tim Sisk describes conflicted societies and the issues.

If parties in intractable conflicts — particularly in societies divided by deep ethnic, racial or religious differences — find that they are unable to escalate their way out of conflict, but seek a compromise that assures them a permanent place at the bargaining table, they may turn to power sharing as a potential solution. Power sharing is a term used to describe a system of governance in which all major segments of society are provided a permanent share of power; this system is often contrasted with government vs. opposition systems in which ruling coalitions rotate among various social groups over time.

These are the basic principles of power sharing as traditionally conceived:

  1. grand coalition governments in which nearly all political parties have appointments;
  2. protection of minority rights for groups;
  3. decentralization of power;
  4. decision making by consensus.

Today, there is a more expanded definition of power sharing, such that a wide range of options exist for engendering consensus and compromise in deeply divided societies. One of the most important tasks for practitioners in intractable conflict is pairing thoughtful assessments about the causes and dynamics of a conflict with the wide range of power-sharing options that could potentially ameliorate tensions through consensus-oriented governance. End of Tim Sisk quote.

Arend Lijphart’s Consociationalism or power-sharing is a form of government involving guaranteed group representation, and is often suggested for managing conflict in deeply divided societies. John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary trace consociationalism back to 1917, when it was first employed in the Netherlands which was divided along various religious denominations and liberal groups namely Calvinist, Catholic, Socialist, and Liberal.

Other pluralist societies, such as Singapore, Canada, and Malaysia, have tried to solve this problem through a variety of means, guaranteed representation in the government, forms of autonomy for different groups and minority vetoes in sensitive areas of public policy. While such measures are typically constitutionally defined in consociational regimes, they also sometimes develop in strongly majoritarian polities as a means of stabilizing minority relations.

The Afghan elections were seen as an experiment in consociationalism.

“People have to realize that any burgeoning exilarchy, autocracy, or tyranny will, from time to time, experience setbacks,” “The same goes for a burgeoning feudalistic, fascist, or kratocratic society, which is another thing we’ve had here over the past several months. Actually, if one has ever studied consociationalism, there was a little bit of that, too.” Robert Carlisle, an international adviser to the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, told reporters.

Let us try to list the types of options that that are being discussed by the major think tanks for Afghanistan.

1) Centralized Democracy
2) Decentralized Democracy
4) Strong Authoritarian Central Rule
5) Partition along ethnic lines
6) Other

The Indian establishment is pushing for the partition of Afghanistan along ethnic lines.

The Neocon think thanks believe that “Partition” and “Authoritarian Rule” is not acceptable for America and is not in US interests. Most think tanks, except the ones owned by Indian Inc. think that some form Decentralized Democracy or dispersed sovereignty will be the most suitable for Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis want a stable Afghanistan and strongly believe that either a “Decentralized” or a “Centralized” or framework would work.

The current issue of Foreign Policy Magazine describes “Decentralized Democracy” as the most viable option.

Decentralized Democracy: The Way Out of Afghanistan
Lots of coverage on Afghanistan today at Memeorandum. Of special note is Jules Crittenden’s post, “Quagmire!” (on the Christian Science Monitor).

In any case, check out the useful analysis from Stephen Biddle, Fotini Christia, and J Alexander Thier, at Foreign Affairs, “Defining Success in Afghanistan: What Can the United States Accept?”

We won’t build a centralized democracy in Afghanistan, but a decentralized model might work:

Power sharing would be easier under a decentralized democracy, in which many responsibilities now held by Kabul would be delegated to the periphery. Some of these powers would surely include the authority to draft and enact budgets, to use traditional alternatives to centralized justice systems for some offenses, to elect or approve important officials who are now appointed by Kabul, and perhaps to collect local revenue and enforce local regulation.

Increasing local autonomy would make it easier to win over Afghans who distrust distant Kabul and would take advantage of a preexisting base of legitimacy and identity at the local level. The responsibility for foreign policy and internal security, however, would remain with the central government, which would prevent even the more autonomous territories from hosting international terrorist groups or supporting insurrection against the state.

A decentralized democracy along these lines should be an acceptable option for the United States. Its reliance on democracy and transparency is consistent with American values. Individual territories with the freedom to reflect local preferences may adopt social policies that many in the United States would see as regressive. But the opposite could also occur, with some places implementing more moderate laws than those favored by a conservative center. By promoting local acceptance of the central government, this option would remove much of the casus belli for the insurgency. And it would preserve a central state with the power and incentive to deny the use of Afghan soil for destabilizing Pakistan or planning attacks against the United States.

A decentralized democracy would comport with much of the post-Cold War experience with state building elsewhere. A range of postconflict states in Africa (Ethiopia and Sierra Leone), Europe, (Bosnia and Macedonia), the Middle East (Iraq and Lebanon), and Asia (East Timor and, tentatively, Nepal) have used some combination of consociationalism, federalism, and other forms of decentralized democratic power sharing. Although it is too early to make definitive claims of success, to date not one of these states has collapsed, relapsed into civil war, or hosted terrorists. And some, such as Bosnia and Ethiopia, have remained tolerably stable for over a decade. This is, of course, no guarantee that decentralized democracy would work in Afghanistan. But its track record elsewhere and its better fit with the country’s natural distribution of power suggests that it offers a reasonable chance of balancing interests and adjudicating disputes in Afghanistan, too ….

Afghanistan is not ungovernable. There are feasible options for acceptable end states that would meet core U.S. security interests and place the country on a path toward tolerable stability. The United States will have to step back from its ambitious but unrealistic project to create a strong, centralized Afghan state. If it does, then a range of power-sharing models could balance the needs of Afghanistan’s internal factions and constituencies in ways that today’s design cannot, while ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a base for terrorists. In war, as in so many other things, the perfect can be the enemy of the good. The perfect is probably not achievable in Afghanistan — but the acceptable can still be salvaged.

Tim Sisk further defines power-sharing:

A long-standing misconception about power-sharing options for intractable conflicts is that there is a single formula for sharing power, which for many years has been called “consociationalism.”[1] The elements of this approach to power sharing are well known: grand coalitions, proportional representation, cultural autonomy or federalism, and the mutual veto. Yet this prototype of power sharing is but one of what is in fact a very broad range of political options for settling ethnic conflicts, the gist of which can be exceptionally different in terms of aims, structures, and effects on promoting inter-group moderation and compromise. What are the principal options for sharing power?[2]

Autonomy. For many conflicts today, such as Azerbaijan (Karabagh), Sudan, or Sri Lanka, autonomy is often seen as a reasonable way to balance the claims of states for territorial integrity and the claims of rebel forces for secession. [3] Autonomy, as eminent scholar Yash Ghai suggests, is not a term on which there is a consensus definition. Nonetheless, his best effort at one is useful: “Autonomy is a device to allow an ethnic group or other groups claiming a distinct identity to exercise direct control over important affairs of concern to them while allowing the larger entity to exercise those powers which are the common interests of both sections.”[4] Among the forms of autonomy is symmetrical federalism, in which all units enjoy similar powers, and asymmetrical federalism that might provide enhanced powers to a particular region.

Power Sharing: Group Building-Block Approach. Another possible option is a looser form of autonomy, not always explicitly territorial, termed consociationalism. The option is in essence a group building-block approach that relies on accommodation by ethnic-group leaders at the political center and guarantees for group autonomy and minority rights; in essence, this approach is “consociational” in that it encourages collaborative decision-making by parties in conflict. The key institutions are federalism and the devolution of power to ethnic groups in territory that they control; minority vetoes on issues of particular importance to them; grand coalition cabinets in a parliamentary framework, and proportionality in all spheres of public life (e.g., budgeting and civil service appointments).[5] Bosnia’s 1995 Dayton Accord is a good example of this approach in practice.


Foreign Policy Magazine


[1] For the seminal articulation of this approach, see Lijphart, Arend. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven: Yale University Press: 1977).

[2] For a more thorough overview of power-sharing options, see Timothy Sisk, Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts (1995), and Peter Harris and Ben Reilly, Eds. Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators (1998).

[3] See also Ruth Lapidoth, Autonomy: Flexible Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts (1997) and Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights (1990).

[4] Autonomy and Ethnicity: Negotiating Competing Claims in Multi-Ethhic States. Cambridge University Press (2000).

[5] For a recent assessment of consociational power-sharing in Europe, see Ulrich Schneckener, “Making Power Sharing Work: Lessons from Successes and Failures in Ethnic Conflict Regulation,” Institut fur Interkultrelle und Internationale Studien, University of Bremen (Working Paper Nr. 19/2000).

[6] For the classic articulation of this approach, see Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

[7] See the report of the Constitutional Review Commission, The Fiji Islands: Toward a United Future, Suva, 1996.

[8] For an excellent summary of underlying causes of ethnic conflicts, see Brown (1996).

[9] For example of the practical policy challenges, see “Turning Strife to Advantage: A Blueprint to Integrate the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina” an International Crisis Group Report (March 15, 2001), available at http://www.intl-crisis-group.org.

[10] Ben Reilly, Democracy in Divided Societies: Electoral Engineering for Conflict Management (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[11] See “Cyprus peace talks end in failure,” on http://www.CNN.com, http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/03/10/cyprus.meet.reut/
Use the following to cite this article:
Sisk, Timothy D.. “Power Sharing.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/power_sharing/&gt;.

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