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Afghanistan’s Troubled Transition: Politics, Peacekeeping, and the 2004 Presidential Election

Scott Seward Smith
Afghanistan’s Troubled Transition: Politics, Peacekeeping, and the 2004 Presidential Election
ISBN: 978-1-935049-36-4
ISBN: 978-1-935049-63-0
2011/310 pages/LC: 2011011236
A FirstForumPress Book
"Not just an authoritative study of what went wrong politically in Afghanistan but also useful in terms of broader issues of foreign involvement in elections and political transitions."—Choice

"This splendid book will be valuable not only to readers interested in Afghanistan, but also to anyone concerned with the role that international electoral assistance under UN auspices has come to play in complex peace operations and political transitions. Smith's conclusions are sobering and controversial, but no one concerned with the future of democratic transitions can afford to ignore them."—William Maley, The Australian National University

"A thorough, compelling, and often gripping account of Afghanistan's 2004 election."—Jake Sherman, Center on International Cooperation, New York University

"Both an important contribution to the literature on the political development of post-2001 Afghanistan and a window into the nuts-and-bolts trials and tribulations of a complex UN peacekeeping operation."—Scott Worden, US Institute of Peace


Scott Seward Smith focuses on Afghanistan's 2004 presidential election—the first popular election ever held there—as he explores the painstaking attempt by the United Nations to develop democratic institutions in the country.

Smith thoroughly describes the personalities, policies, bureaucracies, and external factors that shaped the faltering transition process from 2001 through 2009. He also points to the missed opportunities that contributed to the flawed elections of 2009. Arguing that the failure to give sufficient weight to the importance of institution building led to the crisis of confidence and the resurgence of warlord politics that we see today, he sheds light not only on what has gone wrong in Afghanistan, but also on the prospects for Afghan democracy.


Scott Seward Smith is deputy director of Afghanistan programs at the United States Institute of Peace.


  • Introduction.
  • Tales from a German Castle.
  • Signposts of Democracy: The Emerging Loya Jirga.
  • Plans and Personalities.
  • Setting Policy.
  • The Price of Democracy.
  • Security and the Baghdad Effect.
  • Laying the Legal Foundation.
  • Setting the Election Date.
  • Voter Registration: Turning Victims into Citizens.
  • "Control Freaks" and Credibility.
  • Democracy and the Durand Line.
  • Drafting the Electoral Law.
  • Applying the Law.
  • The Law Invents Politics.
  • Countdown to E-day.
  • Election Day.
  • Counting.
  • Parliamentary Elections.
  • Reckonings: The Presidential Elections of 2009.