Immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America’s armed forces embarked on the mission of destroying the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. The mission was extraordinarily successful in crushing any terrorist forces that failed to flee the country quickly. The second part of America’s operations was more difficult. Rather than simply smashing al Qaeda and leaving Afghanistan a dysfunctional morass, we turned to the arduous task of rebuilding the nation around the institutions of freedom. To this end, America and her allies assisted Afghans in designing a constitutional government, centered on executive, legislative and judicial branches that answered to the people.
America’s mentorship has been attended by all the predictable problems of corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude and apathy, along with a persistent regermination of the Taliban network. More than 2,300 Americans in uniform gave their lives to give the Afghans a chance to achieve an enduring freedom. Nation-building, we know, never comes wrapped in neat packages. But we have persevered, and in a few days, a major milestone in Afghanistan’s journey toward sustainable democracy will be achieved.
On June 14, the sacrifice of so many Americans will produce the most important election in Afghanistan’s history. A peaceful transition of power is a difficult test of new “democratic” countries. As the poet William Blake told us centuries ago, “The iron fist crushed the tyrant’s head … and became a tyrant in its stead.” This election has the potential of proving the exception. Credible candidates with reputations for integrity and intelligence are in the race for Afghanistan’s presidency. The preliminary race that presaged the runoff produced a strong voter turn out, despite Taliban attacks.
The Afghan military produced a viable security shield for April’s preliminary elections. Years ago, when I visited U.S. Special Forces training camps in Afghanistan at the startup of the allied training program of Afghan forces, conditions were crude and recruits were raw. Ancient Russian weapons, coated in rust and mostly inoperable, were being dug out of old caches by the Green Berets to give new recruits the basics. Today, Afghanistan’s forces, with lots of rough edges still, but with major U.S. investments in equipment and training, have shown the ability and courage to close in on enemy forces and prevail in battle.
On June 14, America and our troops and families who have given so much will be rewarded … if truly free and fair elections occur in Afghanistan. However, troubling incidents occurred in April’s preliminary elections that remind us of the potential for disaster. Voting irregularities and vote rigging were widespread. More than 3,000 employees of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission were fired for “manipulation.” Taliban attacks were widespread during the voting process.
Yet, despite the problems with April’s preliminary elections, more than 7 million citizens cast ballots. Thirty-five percent of the voters were women, and voting was especially heavy in the Taliban homeland of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. All this shows that American sacrifice and leadership has not been in vain. We have a chance of prevailing … if free and fair elections are held on June 14.
Toward these ends, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has passed a resolution (H.R. 600) urging the government of Afghanistan to pursue a transparent, credible and inclusive runoff election and the full House of Representatives should pass the resolution as quickly as possible.
Afghanistan, after the election, will continue to present a difficult array of issues for U.S. decision makers, including the need for a solid bilateral security agreement, the requirement for residual American and allied forces, and all the “housekeeping” issues so paramount to the fledgling democracy (corruption, bureaucratic reform, complex relations with Pakistan, etc.)
A stable and decent Afghanistan, friendly to the U.S. and the free world is not guaranteed by a free and fair election. The election does, however, represent the threshold step toward success. We owe it to those who served, and especially to those Americans who gave their lives in the war, to do everything in our power to make the election of June 14 a fair one.
Duncan L. Hunter served for 28 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as a California Republican and chaired the Armed Services Committee from 2004 to 2007. His sons, Sam Hunter and Duncan D. Hunter both served in Iraq. The latter also served in Afghanistan and is currently a member of Congress.