- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

The great American poet Robert Frost describes in “The Road Not Taken” the experience of coming to a fork in the road and struggling to decide which path to follow. In many respects, his poem stands as a metaphor for the state in which Afghanistan finds itself today.

Two months ago, the Afghan people were asked to choose between the politics of the past and the politics of the possible. They chose overwhelmingly to reject the divisive ethnic politics of the former in favor of an inclusive, democratically-elected government. Despite widespread threats of violence by the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, more than 8 million men and women turned out at more than 22,000 polling stations across Afghanistan, and in refugee communities in Iran and Pakistan. The Afghan people determined that the future of their country should be guided by their voices. Frost ultimately chose the road less traveled, which held for him greater promise, just as Afghanistan chose hope, optimism and democracy.

This week, as Afghans applaud the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan, our friends and well-wishers across the globe should join in the celebrations. Success in Afghanistan is not only our success, but is truly the world’s success. What we have achieved we have achieved with the help of our great friends, particularly the United States.

The outcome of this election should not overshadow the reality that this is only the first step in a long journey to achieving success in Afghanistan. An election anywhere is a social contract between the electorate and those who commit themselves to realizing the goals and aspirations of the nation. In Afghanistan, this is particularly true. Indeed, it may be premature to judge the success of this election — for an election’s success can only partially be measured in the very act of voting, and must ultimately be evaluated on the basis of whether the election delivered the stability and prosperity it promised.

Afghanistan has made considerable progress since the collapse of the Taliban some three years ago. A new currency has been successfully introduced; the new Afghan National Army established; a new constitution, replete with enhanced human rights and enshrining the principles of equality, has been ratified; and the reconstruction of roads, schools and hospitals has begun. As one of the most impoverished nations in the world, Afghanistan has made tremendous strides, thanks in particular to generous support from the United States and other donors. We may have chosen the road less traveled, but we have not walked alone.

There remain, however, significant challenges that only a long-term commitment to Afghanistan can address. Unemployment and underemployment remain tremendous challenges, particularly in a country where a growing narcotics trade can provide employment with high rates of pay. The elimination of the opium industry in Afghanistan is of vital importance not only to Afghanistan, but also to the world. It is this opium that is converted into heroin and sold on the streets of Europe. It is also this opium that provides significant funding to the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda. In our struggle against narcotics, we cannot succeed alone.

Although the disarmament and reintegration of former combatants into civilian life has enjoyed some recent successes, much more remains to be accomplished. By some estimates, more than 30 million small arms are scattered across Afghanistan. We have not been able to offer jobs to those who would trade a life of fighting for a life of peace. In our policies to grow Afghanistan’s economy, we cannot succeed alone.

The world celebrated with Afghanistan in March 2002, when more than 1.5 million children — boys and girls — returned to schools that had been closed or destroyed under the Taliban. Over the last three years, that figure has risen to more than 5 million. Yet, thousands of classes continue to be conducted without textbooks or even paper, in tents, under trees, in open fields, and even in abandoned buses and containers. Only by educating our young girls and boys, who so desperately desire an education, will Afghanistan break the cycle of poverty that has weighed heavily on its people for decades. In our efforts to educate the future of Afghanistan, we cannot succeed alone.

In October, the Afghans not only elected Mr. Karzai as their president, but they endorsed his record of forging partnerships with the United States and other nations. By an overwhelming majority, in a very competitive election, the people of Afghanistan extended their hands in partnership and friendship to these countries.

Afghanistan, therefore, can become a success if you in the United States, and other nations, continue to walk with us on the road we have chosen, which, as Frost writes, will make all the difference.

Enayat Qasimi is legal and foreign affairs adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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