I will admit from the outset of this article that I am an optimist. But what happened in Afghanistan last April and again this past weekend gives me some reason for that optimism. After over a decade of our own involvement in Afghanistan, sacrificing so much in terms of blood and treasure, it would be good to see the Afghan people take the reigns of their own destiny and to do it well.
Last weekend over 7 million Afghans went to the voting booths again to choose their new president from between the two men who garnered the most votes in the April election. They did this, again, despite the continuing threats of the Taliban to kill those who voted.
The Taliban, just as they had last April, followed through on their threats, but they still did not stop those 7 million Afghans from exercising their democratic right to vote. What the Taliban did, in comparison to what those 7 million did is telling about both. Those millions of Afghan voters represented over 60% of the eligible electorate in Afghanistan. That is a good 10-12 percentage points higher than our own voting record in the last several Presidential elections here in the United States. This is a powerful statement on the part of the Afghan people. They were not intimidated by the Taliban threats, nor by their actual acts of terror.
As for the Taliban, in one incident in Kandahar Province, the Taliban set off a roadside bomb killing five people from one family, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. Three of those killed were children. In another incident, the Taliban seized 11 elderly men after they had voted and cut off the ink-stained fingers that showed that they had voted.
One U.N. special observer of the elections, Jan Kubis, said:
“Like millions of their countrymen and women, these ordinary Afghans were exercising their fundamental right to determine the future path of their country through voting and not through violence and intimidation. By their vote, they already defeated those who promote terror and violence.”
A Vote Against the Taliban
Afghanistan is not Iraq. What we are seeing in Iraq today is as much a product of the Maliki government’s inability to be inclusive to all elements of Iraqi society, as it does with religious sectarianism, and the corruption of militant jihadi terrorism. The Taliban are not liked by the average Afghan. If you have read the recent book I Am Malala, written by the teenage girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for advocating education for girls, you will recognize that the vast majority of the people in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan despise the Taliban and everything they stand for. The Afghans have already experienced what living under the Taliban means. Now it is in their hands, it is up to them to prevent the Taliban from returning to Afghanistan. Afghan women and girls, in particular, do not want to go back to what it was like for them under the Taliban.
There will be a winner in the elections from last week, even though there are the usual complaints about counts at this time. Both men, the current Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have vowed to improve ties with the West and to sign a security pact, which will allow up to 10,000 American troops to remain in the country to continue training Afghan army and police forces for two more years.
We have done our part on their behalf. We have sacrificed much to give them this chance. They, now, must take the fight to the Taliban in their own sanctuaries and hiding places. If the Afghan military takes the offensive, rather than taking a defensive attitude, their chances of success will be far greater. We will have to wait and see, of course. They owe it to themselves and to all those Americans who fought, suffered and died to give them the chance to determine their own destiny as a free nation of free people.
At this point, I think that what the Afghan people have done as voters in the face of active threats and actual intimidation, voting in their millions to elect a new president and to affect a democratic transition from one president to another for the first time in their history, shows a lot about where they have come in a very short time. We will see.
1) A voter from the village of Moraqhja, proudly displays his finger, showing that he has voted in the first parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2005 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Denny).
2) U.S. Soldiers with the 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 161st Cavalry Regiment patrol the area in support of Afghan elections after encountering small-arms fire Sept. 18, 2010, in the Khogyani district of the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan (U.S. Army photo by Spc. David A. Jackson, CC BY 2.0).