KABUL -- The Taliban's apparent fear of upcoming elections not only underscores its false claims of popular support in Afghanistan, but also the militants' deliberate misinterpretations of Islam and its relationship with democracy.
In a threatening statement released last week, the Taliban warned the Afghan public not to partake in the October 20 parliamentary polls, instructing its fighters to hinder the democratic process and target those who are working to make it a success.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believes that the present circumstances of our country do not allow such election processes to take place from either logical or religious point of view," said the statement, referring to what the Taliban formally calls itself.
The militants called on Afghans to boycott and renounce the elections.
The Taliban's dismissal of elections is rooted in a misconception that the militants seek to perpetuate -- that democracy runs counter to Islam and the idea of an Islamic state, and that it was forced upon Afghanistan by western nations.
Rejecting the Taliban's view, Afghan religious scholars say they believe that the country's constitution, which is based on Islamic principles, has provided Afghans the basis on which to elect their leaders through democratic elections.
"Elections and democracy are among modern concepts in human society, but in no way do they contradict Islam," Salem Hasani, a Kabul-based religious scholar, told Salaam Times.
"We have many examples from the early history of Islam that are similar to the current democracy and electoral system. Among those similarities is the mechanism at which Muslim caliphs and rulers throughout Islamic history were chosen," he said.
"Even back then, Muslim caliphs and rulers -- the present-day analogue for the president -- were elected through a direct vote of [consensus] and a direct pledge of allegiance by the people."
"Elections are one of the components of democracy. The foundation of elections exists in Islamic history, and there is no religious prohibition against conducting the elections," Hasani explained.
"The subject of monitoring the government's actions has been raised and discussed in Islam, and the right to social monitoring for Muslims has been recognised in the Koran as a right -- even as a responsibility," he said.
"It is, however, not possible for an individual to monitor the government's actions," Hasani said. "To that end, it is necessary for elections to be held so that the people can decide upon and elect their representatives in parliament through the electoral process in order to serve as a check for the government's actions."
"In Islamic culture, there is a concept called 'the sense of social responsibility.' Muslims must feel responsible for their own destiny and future. Hence, participating in elections is the right and social responsibility of every Muslim," Hasani argued.
Afghan analysts and civil society leaders believe democracy is compatible with Islam and that the Taliban is intentionally misinterpreting Islam for its own agenda.
"Holding elections and being elected is the right of each and every citizen of Afghanistan according to the constitution of our country," Daoud Rawash, a professor at Kabul University, told Salaam Times.
"Presidents, as well as people's representatives in parliament, are all elected by the people through free and fair elections. By voting in elections, people can form their government and leaders," he said.
"Democracy means the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. It is, therefore, incumbent on us to participate in elections in order to maintain the current democratic system, to reject a Taliban system of government and to preserve the achievements of the past 17 years," Rawash said.
"The Taliban's position on the elections reflects their weaknesses and it demonstrates their inability to face civil and democratic processes," Aziz Rafiye, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, told Salaam Times. "The reason for which they oppose modern and popular processes is that such processes will question their [the Taliban's] legitimacy."
"In the current era, elections are the only way for people to elect their leaders and it is compatible with the methods of elections which were used at the formation period of Islam when people elected their rulers through direct vote and declaration of allegiance," Rafiee said.
"By announcing their plans to prevent the election process, the Taliban want to prevent a national process demanded by all Afghans," he continued.
"People legitimise their government and parliament through their participation in the vote. The Taliban, however, are frightened that democracy and elections will turn into a normal process in Afghanistan," he said.
"In principle, democracy and elections do not contradict Islam. The Taliban are afraid of the high-level public participation in the political arena since they do not want the country's citizens to decide their own destiny through democratic processes," Rafiee emphasized.
"Democracy and elections indicate people's participation in political power, which is now accepted in all countries of the world," Sakhi Munir, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Salaam Times.
"Fortunately, our constitution -- which is based upon Islamic principles -- provides Afghans with the right to elect their presidents or parliamentarians through elections, which is a core pillar of democracy."
"Democracy and elections form the basis of credibility and legitimacy for political systems. People want to practice their rights to form a legitimate government. The only alternative to elections and democracy will be the emergence of authoritarian, terrorist regimes, and elections are the only path for saving the country from tyranny and anarchy," Munir argued.
"The Taliban militants have no plans for governance. Their belief is contrary to democratic processes. The group wants to get into power through dictatorship and tyranny," Mohammad Farhad Sediqi, a member of the Wolesi Jirga (the lower chamber of parliament) from Kabul Province, told Salaam Times.
"It's been 17 years since the Afghan people have been asking for peace but the Taliban wants to impose their dictatorial and totalitarian regime on the people through war, violence and massacre [rather than elections]," Sediqi said.
Mohammad Wares, a political science student at a private university in Kabul, echoed Sediqi's views.
"The Taliban are an enemy of freedom, democracy and elections," Wares told Salaam Times.
"Voting is my civil and political right. I will participate in the elections and vote in order for democracy to be realised in my country," he said. "I will never allow the Taliban to deprive me of my civil and political rights, which has been bestowed upon me by both Islam and the [Afghan] constitution."
"Participation in elections is also an Islamic duty," he added.
"From the viewpoint of people, the Taliban is a detested group," Gen. Sikandar Asghari, a Kabul-based military affairs analyst, told Salaam Times.
"From a legal, political, and religious standpoint, the Taliban are an illegitimate, failed group with illegal activities. Wherever they rule in Afghanistan, they rule through their guns -- and not through people's will. And that is the reason for which they do not accept the elections because they are afraid of people's vote," he said.
"If the elections are held, the Taliban will become even more marginalised."
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?