Afghanistan far from free

Things slip past even those who try to be observant. While most of us have been focusing on the coming election in the United States, or the election scheduled for January 2005 in Iraq, voting

Things slip past even those who try to be observant. While most of us have been focusing on the coming election in the United States, or the election scheduled for January 2005 in Iraq, voting in Afghanistan has come and gone. Elections were held Oct. 9.

It may be a while before observers know if any of the 16 candidates won a majority of votes they needed to avoid a runoff, and while as of now the elections look to be a success, the future of Afghanistan will take more than this one piece of good news to tackle the problems faced by their new president.

Hamid Karzai, the interim president chosen by the United States, is now favored to win the election. It may be true that no one could do better. But the problem with Karzai does not lie with his ability; it lies in the fact that he was appointed by the United States and is viewed by some as a puppet.

Latif Pedram, one of the other presidential candidates, was quoted as saying, “Karzai is a mindless leader-he does whatever the foreigners tell him.”

Getting rid of the Taliban and capturing Osama bin Laden were just part of the reason the United States went in to Afghanistan. We were also going to import democracy, remaking the country into a safe, secure place where democratic values would take root. Afghanistan would be a success story that would show the world what America was all about, much like Iraq. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

The Taliban still exsist, bin Laden is still at large, and the Afghan people are still suffering from violence around them.

The Bush administration will try to claim success in Afghanistan, and to a certain extent, these elections were successful. But there is still room for improvement. Though Afghanis obviously want democracy, it will take a while before the entire country is able to come together to make a democratic Afghanistan.

The new leader of Afghanistan will have to find a way of uniting the country, and that means somehow dealing with the Taliban and other fundamentalists. A western-leaning president like Karzai is going to have a hard time getting the Taliban and their allies to join with him in a democratic Afghanistan. Karzai’s troubles will begin, not end, if he’s elected.

Afghanistan has not had a national election since 1969, and no one can remember a presidential election of any sort. But despite the unprecedented election, there are many problems.

Reports have stated that tribal leaders were instructing followers how to vote, and some of the candidates were buying votes. The Taliban is still active in parts of Afghanistan, and they do not want to cooperate in a democratic society. Also, with large parts of the country in the hands of warlords, it might be too much to expect that this is the beginning of a democratic Afghanistan.

There are certain requirements for an election to take place. Chief among them is at least some level of security and stability. No democratic tradition and 25 years of war is not a recipe to ensure elections that are free and fair.

If the Afghani people believe they have been allowed to participate in a free election, then more progress should have been made toward ending violence that has gone on far too long. If they feel like victims of fraud, the value of the election is questionable.

To unite the country Karzai will have to urge men and women, westerners and traditionalists (including remaining members of the Taliban) to share some sort of vision for the future of the country.

This vision has to be an Afghani creation, not something imported from the United States.

The presidential election looks like the first step in a long process. While the election went better than expected, Afghanistan’s troubles are not over.

William Lodge can be reached at

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