The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq both resulted in the eviction of two of the world’s most repressive regimes, that of Saddam Hussein and that of the Taliban. While bringing democracy to the two countries was not the initial rationale for either war (v. eliminating safe haven to terrorists and weapons of mass destruction), democracy promotion quickly became a stated goal for each.
Nonetheless, on a widely used evaluation and ranking of the quality of democracy across the world’s states, the “Democracy Index,” Iraq ranks poorly. Of the 167 countries ranked for 2010, Iraq is classified as a “hybrid regime” (between a “flawed democracy” and an “authoritarian regime”) and comes in. According to Transparency International, on a corruption scale from 0 to 10, Iraq ranks 1.5 – the worst in the Middle East - in corruption (defined as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”) in 2010. Freedom House simply says: “Iraq is not an electoral democracy. Although it has conducted meaningful elections, political participation and decision-making in the country remain seriously impaired by sectarian and insurgent violence, widespread corruption, and the influence of foreign powers.” Freedom House also notes that hundreds of professors were killed and many fled the country during the height of the sectarian fighting, a blow to academic freedom; the judiciary’s independence is threatened by political pressure, and sectarian violence continues to threaten the religious freedom.
On the Democracy Index, Afghanistan is categorized as an authoritarian regime and ranks at 150 out of 167. Afghanistan ranks 1.4 on the Transparency International corruption scale – the worst in South Asia. Of the 178 countries assessed, the only countries lower ranked than Afghanistan or Iraq are Myanmar and Somalia.
Democracy promotion was in trouble in Afghanistan from the beginning, at the meeting which resulted in the December 2001 Bonn Agreement. The resuscitation of well-known warlords who had just been installed in their former fiefdoms for the primary purpose of helping the US prosecute the Global War on Terror was of great concern to Afghans. Significantly, Bonn did not include groups concerned about the marginalization of women, human rights advocates, nor representatives of the victims of war and abuse. A significant proportion of the Pashtun community, particularly those associated with the Taliban and rural norms, were not invited to Bonn and were, effectively, relegated to the margins of Afghan politics.
Whereas Afghans do want a say in how they are governed, as indicated in the 70 percent turnout in the 2004 elections, a growing number of citizens are less and less interested in the ineffective democracy that has been on offer. By August 2009, impunity and corruption were more entrenched than before and Karzai’s western backers were still married to the notion that elections, however unconvincing to Afghans, were needed to sustain domestic support in ISAF troop-contributing countries. Elections, and Karzai’s bid to retain his Presidency, were marred by violence and well-documented, systematic fraud. Turnout was low and polling day was the worst single 24-hour period of recorded violent incidents, including the deaths of 57 Afghans, since the overthrow of the Taliban regime.  The second round of parliamentary elections in 2010 fared no better in terms of being credible or acceptable to Afghan voters. Little effort had been made to correct either the electoral system or the faults that had marred previous rounds of voting.
The widespread violence and corruption in Afghanistan has, ironically, boosted the image of the Taliban which the Taliban have been able to exploit because of their reputation and approach to criminality. They ended the may Them associated with their predecessors many of whom are Karzai’s allies who have reverted to their predatory practices. The study commissioned by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal in 2009 led to the conclusion that “widespread corruption and abuse of power exacerbate the popular crisis of confidence in the government and reinforce a culture of impunity.” By contrast, the Taliban, according to the McChrystal study, have established ombudsmen “to investigate abuse of power in its own cadres and remove those found guilty.”
Many Afghans believe they deserve a “Bonn II” that is free of external interference, embraces the full diversity of Afghan society, and is geared to the identification of genuine power sharing, peace-consolidation, and transparent state-building arrangements.
DID THE WARS LIBERATED WOMEN?
The US-led war in Afghanistan followed on the heels of a war in the 1980s with the Soviet Union, and a 1990s civil war. Each war has turned thousands of Afghan women into refugees and widows – or both – and made it dangerous for women to seek schooling, healthcare, paid employment and legal rights. In each war, rival male combatants have claimed that they knew what was best for Afghan women, while marginalizing women in the actual planning of their future. And in each war, women and their children were often the victims of the violence itself.
In its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the US government chose as its chief domestic allies those warlords – the “Northern Alliance”– opposed to Taliban rule. This was despite the fact that they firmly embraced negative or dismissive views of women, for instance, accepting domestic violence as a husband’s prerogative. Currently women hold a quarter of the seats in the Afghan legislature, but that percentage was gained over the objections of quota-phobic American officials. In addition, the millions of foreign dollars that have poured in for contractors and infrastructure have mainly benefited men and in many cases have created incentives for escalating conflict between male-led groups. Afghan women activists fear that the status of women – especially as it is affected by laws regarding marriage, inheritance, custody, divorce, and domestic violence – will become mere bargaining chips among the rival foreign and local male elites.
Since the 1920s, Iraqi women have pressed for access to legal rights, schooling and paid employment with notable success. The Iran-Iraq war and the US-backed 1990s international economic sanctions against the Iraqi regime caused many Iraqi women – including teachers, physicians, and engineers – to lose their jobs as the economy foundered. During the 2003 – 2011 war, the number of Iraqi women reduced to impoverished widowhood and refugee status skyrocketed. The ruling party of Prime Minister Maliki and his closest allies wrote a constitution undercutting the reformed family law that women’s groups had helped to craft in the 1970s. While Iraqi women’s organizations won a 25 percent quota for women in the new legislature, the newly emerged political parties are all led by men and there is only one woman among the 44 members of the current cabinet. Iraqi women activists today express alarm at the backward motion of the country’s gender policies, laws, and politics, saying that the US government’s focus on reconciling Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish men’s rivalries constantly marginalize important Iraqi women’s issues such as access to paid employment.
 UNAMA-AIHRC Joint Monitoring of Political Rights, Presidential and Provincial Council Elections, Third Report, 1 August – 21 October, Kabul, October 2009
 Scott Worden “Afghanistan: An Election Gone Awry”, Journal of Democracy, Volume 21, Number 3, July 2010, page 18
COMISAF Initial Assessment (Unclassified), Kabul, 30 August, 2009
 COMISAF Initial Assessment