We welcomed the mushrooming of democracy around the world following the Second World War because of its peaceful and open nature. The victory of the free world over Soviet Communism was strengthening the idea that democracy, however chaotic, was an idea whose time had come. Afghanistan’s rapid takeover by the Taliban has delivered this idea a blow. A coalition of democracies led by a superpower has ceded democratically governed territory to a gun totting militia of 75000 terrorists. Any authoritarian group that wishes to defeat democratic states will take comfort from the democratic world’s disinterest in protecting substantial gains made in advancing democracy in Afghanistan.
The nerve-wrenching development is a warning call to democracies outside of NATO, which have authoritarian states as adversaries. India falls into this category as an Islamist neighbour to its West and an authoritarian neighbour to its North surrounds it. Countries like India must no longer count on lasting support from a geographically distant “free world” in combating the threat posed by rising Islamism and authoritarianism in its neighbourhood. The defeat in Afghanistan has shown that military strength alone cannot guarantee victory in this battle. Combating and overcoming the dual challenge of rising Islamism and Authoritarianism will require three fundamental course corrections within vulnerable democracies. The course correction can only begin after a great internal churn within factions in democracies. Cessation of visceral hostilities between the liberal left and the conservative right through dialogues establishing common minimum response on sensitive home and external affairs matters can go a long way in driving democratic ambrosia out of the great internal churn. If hostilities do not stop, the course corrections will be dead ab initio.
It is pivotal for these course corrections to succeed in lieu of the threats that democracies face. First, the liberal left within democracies must stop viewing electoral victories of the conservative right as a sign of impending doom. The liberal left has to recognize that their conservative counterparts share a similar vision for the future, albeit using different a blueprint to arrive at the same. The open acceptance of this truth is paramount for strengthening democracy, as it places the dominant ideological factions on an equal moral footing. It will ensure that half the population of a democracy is not viewed as an infant that habitually makes rash decisions.
Second, the conservative right has to acknowledge that for all their faults, the liberal left has played a pivotal role in making the democratic world more inclusive. They have been better at identifying hurdles to advancement of social justice and are owed a debt of gratitude. The dogged persistence with which the liberal left pursed advancement of equality for people of color & more recently for the LGBTQIA community is an example of the same.
Third, the conservative right needs the support of the liberal left when it advocates muscular liberalism to protect, preserve, and spread the essential tenets of democracy. The hue and cry on account of the abolition of Article 370 in India brought to light the need for this course correction. The abolition of Article 370 reduced discriminatory treatment of Dalits, Tribals & women compared to their Sunni male counterparts in the Kashmir valley. However, the abolition of the act by a right wing government made it politically inconvenient for the liberal left to welcome the egalitarian aspects of the change in the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir. Majorities alone do not have a monopoly over illiberal attitudes.
Minority groups can also harbour notions which are incongruent with democratic ideals. Such notions, irrespective of the community that holds them, need to be overcome with muscular measures within the purview of our constitution if the dialogues to resolve them fail. This ideological concession by the liberal left will help facilitate an honest conversation around tackling major cultural challenges such as refugee integration or abolition of Article 370.
These three concessions will reshape the outlook of vulnerable democracies in a matter that will reignite the self-belief of democracies. Democracies will recognize that their greatest challenge comes from authoritarian entities outside their shores and not from within. Democracies will realize that their system is superior to all existing systems that govern lives of people. This will provide democracies with much needed firepower as it combats its next major threat.
Without democracy, there will be nothing to bicker about between the liberal left and the conservative right. The great churn is, therefore, to preserve the spirit of debate within democracies by agreeing on the common minimum in sensitive matters of home and external affairs. After all, are Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani bickering about elections under the iron fist of Taliban?