The high illiteracy make the people dependent on "leaders" to tell what to do and say. Passions, appetites/desires and emotions are the order of the day and outright lies and half-truths are the means of control. It is therefore very easy to influence behaviour, because nothing is questioned and everything is accepted as the truth. Relighion penetrates and absorbs society. No deviation is allowed and the slightest mis-step is quickly and severely punished. It feeds on the widespread ignorance, as a matter of fact ignorance is the chief weapon. The people are easily manipulated and used to destroy any who are perceived to be a threat.....women who want rights, children who want to go to school or even to fly a kite and anyone who dare to point out the fallacy foisted on the people.
Historical enmity between ethnic factions are fed and allowed to fester. The Pashtuns, the Hazarra, the Uzbek , the Tajik etc.are regionalised and marginalised by each other. There is little room for reconciliation, because it threatens the power of the "leaders". They control their fiefdom with iron fists, and they use all means to retain control. Corruption is the order of the day and they wallow in it. The idea of building a nation is anathema, and democracy must not succeed, and so elections must be hi-jacked in order to ensure that"natural order" remain intact.
The West must understand that equal rights, is a non-starter in a society where a man is free to marry many (4+) women at the same time and where he is the uinquestionable master ( even South African President, Jacob Zuma have three wives...a Zulu practice). Free, fair and regular elections threaten the hold on power of tribal chiefs, somethimg that they will not easily forego. Education for females is also a threat to these male-dominated societies, whether in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or eleswhere. Equality before the law, another western concept is taboo in authoritarian societies, where religious leaders and/or tribal chiefs mete out "justice" as they see fit. Thus attempts at nation-building ( Iraq is in violent chaos, with the Americans having signaled that they are leaving), if it is to be even mildly successful have to be done in concert with the values and practices of these societies. Time and patience and the willingness to respect a societies norms and values, together with loads of money for the building of infrastructure....roads, schools, electical grids, hospitals, job training etc. would be necessary and it must be done in partnership with the "leaders"of these societies ( you have to work with them no matter how distasteful this may be).
Turkey is an example of a Muslim but secular society, that has been able to achieve democracy ( somewhat tenuous, given the role of the military in defending the secular constitution). In Algeria, almost twenty years after elections, (that would have brought fundamentalists Muslims to power )were voided, there are many important democratic changes taking place, and chances of more are good. Indonesia, another Muslim state, has after decades of military dictatorship, been able to make democratic changes. Bangladesh has had its problems hanging on to its democracy, beset with spates of violence, In each of these cases, the democratic changes have come from within and Islam was not allowed to be the state religion. An uneasy truce exist. In Turkey it was the leadership of Kemal Attaturk. In Indonesia, the overthrow of the military dictatorship was only made possible by internal struggles in many of its far-flung (ethnic) provinces (East Timor, Ache etc) and the removal of American support for the Suharto regime. There is no democracy to speak of( Jordan's and Morocco's feeble attempts notwithstanding) in the Middle East. Iran is a theocracy( elections and its results are secondary to "Ayatollahs", led by the Supreme Leader. Saudi Arabia is religious monarchy, where women are flogged ( the King recently "saved" a female reporter from being flogged), for being raped and subject to all manner of other humiliations, including " honor killings" and eleswhere in the Arab/ Muslim world, it is not much better. In each of these cases, religion is the key. Education is the answer, but............
So, what about the run-off elections in Afghanistan. Karzai will win. Abdullah Abdullah will be pressured to join an alliance and President Obama will send tens of thousands of troops but until and unless the Americans and NATO change their strategy, it will make little difference. From a military standpoint, they must focus on the large urban areas and satbilise them ( chasing the "enemies" all over the country is wasteful and futile). More infrastructure work has to be done...roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, water and alternatives to poppt-growing. Employment is the key ( many are recruited and paid by the Taliban, because that is their only means of employment). Reduce civilian casualties....whether from bombarding villages with insurgents using civilians as human shields or bombing targets from the air. Bring the "warlords" on board...the British in their centuries long attempt to rule Afghanistan learnt that "while you may not be able to buy an Afghan, you can certainly rent one". The Americans should do what they did in Iraq to make the "surge" successful. Spend a lot of money to "buy/ employ" the main players and hire local help. Isolate al Qaeda. This will mean that you have to identify( even as they did with the Sunnis in Iraq) elements of the Taliban to work with. They are Pashtuns like Karzai, ( many are fighting because they see Americans and NATO as occupiers and historically, as long ago as Alexander and Ghengis, they have banded together ( as against the British and more recently the Soviets also) to throw them out of their country. Can this be done? Yes. Will this be done? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, if it is not done, the cost to all will be extremely high. The longer this conflict lasts, the greater the threat to the rest of the world....from Pakistan to the Middle East to Indonesia and eleswhere, the "jihadis" will flock to the cause and mayhem will reign.