Scholars in Context: Mustafa Saqib
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research, and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Mustafa Saqib (MS): Over the past ten years, my research interests have focused on legal education in Afghanistan, women's rights, local governance and decentralization, and local elections. My dissertation's main topic is the disenfranchisement of citizens in the democratic process as a result of a flawed constitutional structure and electoral provisions. In particular, my research discusses systematic flaws in the state-building process in Afghanistan that disregarded the complexity of local governance and consequently resulted in the marginalization of rural citizens. This research has provided three main important lessons on the democratization of countries emerging from conflicts. First, it emphasizes the importance of considering citizen participation when designing constitutions. Secondly, it suggests that national-level elections are prone to fraud and manipulation under circumstances posing security and conflict risks—negatively affecting public trust and democratic processes. Finally, it argues that the state-building process was misguided by the centralization process that resulted in limited development in relatively secure urban areas while rural society remained complex to govern. In addition, a chapter of my dissertation is devoted to a comparative study of the structure of local governments in Turkey and Afghanistan. This is because the formal administration system of Afghanistan has been inspired by the Turkish model. This chapter provides significant lessons to learn for Afghanistan on raising citizens’ engagement with the government.
In light of the fact that Afghanistan is now governed by a rogue insurgent group named “the Taliban,” and stable democracy has once again become more difficult to achieve, I am currently working on two main topics. The first topic is the role of civil society under authoritarian regimes. My main focus here is how civil society could stand with the people of Afghanistan when they are being repressed by the Taliban, a notoriously oppressive group that is not familiar with the management of crises and politics. The second topic that I have started to work on upon finishing my dissertation is the divide between urban-rural politics in Afghanistan after failed democratization (state-building) efforts in Afghanistan.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
MS: I study the freedom of civil society organizations in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime and their potential role in the transition. I am addressing several themes here, including rule of law, freedom of speech, and women's rights under the Taliban regime. In addition, as Afghans are facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world under the Taliban regime, this topic also engages with philanthropic and nonprofit studies.
In my second research project, I discuss twenty years of the international community’s costly engagement in Afghanistan to foster democracy and establish a legitimate state, highlighting its implications on the rural-urban divide. This research describes features of rural society that are particular to Afghanistan, and challenges that hamper modernization and democratization of the society.
Having background knowledge about the legal system of the country enables me to analyze these topics from three intersecting dimensions of the legal system of Afghanistan which encompass the Sharia-Islamic Law, the shura-traditional law and practice, and the formal legal system instituted under the 2004 Constitution. In addition, I use books, research articles published in journals, and reports about democratic processes in Afghanistan, post-conflict settings, and the modernization of traditional societies in pre-industrial poor countries.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
MS: I started my career first as a lawyer and then as a law lecturer at Herat University Faculty of Law. After that, a visit to Navajo Nation's peacemaking system in Arizona, as a part of my legal education at the University of Washington, inspired me to learn more about the informal order in Afghanistan. Upon my return to Herat University Faculty of Law, I started to work in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Clinic. While working in the informal justice and rule of law sectors, I have concluded that the informal sector has a significant impact on rural society. In contrast, formal institutions have a weak presence at the local level and citizens cannot claim their rights against the authorities.
My recent studies about the structure of the local domains in Afghanistan have provided me with a deeper understanding of the influence of formal and informal structures in sustaining peace in conflict countries, particularly Afghanistan. Although empirical evidence does not exist to prove that decentralization or local elections could be a solution to long-standing conflicts in Afghanistan, local governance contributes to peace when it is inclusive, accountable, and effective. The political crisis in 2021 that resulted in the rapid collapse of the entire state and system has proven once again that rural Afghanistan is close to the roots of many serious challenges.
J: What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
MS: Since the overthrow of the republic state of Afghanistan by insurgent groups in 2021, building democracy in developing countries has become a significant concern of western development assistance and academic researchers. My research studies are likely to provide social and political science researchers with resources regarding the support of citizens' rights to participate in governance in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. Although stable democracy seems more challenging to achieve at the moment, particularly without the support of the international community, my research suggests that there are some good reasons to continue to support citizens' rights in Afghanistan. In addition, descriptive analysis of my studies on the feature of Afghan governance provides students and academics with updated resources about what works beyond the formal structure of the state in Afghanistan.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
MS: I am undertaking my position as a visiting scholar at Rutgers University-Camden after receiving a fellowship award from the Institute of International Education Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) and Rutgers University. I am currently working on two papers and several presentations about Afghanistan, its challenges, and how to support Afghans at present. During the last half of my fellowship program, I have resettled, conducted academic activities, and worked on my PhD. My goal is to utilize the support I receive from IIE-SRF and Rutgers University to find a post-doctoral, assistant researcher, or lecturer position in academia.