- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The people of Afghanistan are unfit for self-government.But not forever, and not after protracted tutelage under a United Nations protectorate. At present, however, the unfitness of Afghans to forge and operate democratic institutions featuring the rule of law is as undeniable as the emperor's nakedness despite boasting of new clothes.

Etiquette dictates denying the obvious in diplomatic circles. And the United States and European Union mania against insinuating that some peoples or cultures are centuries behind others in the art of self-government has engendered self-deception over post-Taliban Afghanistan.

If its future was as inconsequential as appointing the chamberlain of the king's wardrobe, then silence might be appropriate. But the stakes are much higher: namely, inviting a restoration of Afghan anarchy where warlords, opium poppies, drug trafficking, and terrorism flourish, while ordinary citizens grieve, subsist and suffer. Our soldiers have fought too bravely there to justify achieving so little.

A current snapshot of Afghanistan depicts the following:

Interim President Hamid Karzai presides over Kabul. He was appointed, not popularly elected. He commands neither a national army nor police force. Kabul would be in chaos absent an international brigade. Outside the capital, extortionate road blocks manned by brigands, thugs and highwaymen are omnipresent. Farmers openly defy Mr. Karzai's lofty decrees prohibiting opium poppies. Taliban fanatics, who eluded our soldiers, are routinely embraced by falsely denying their abominable deeds and terrorist associations. Just as Nazi Party members disappeared faster than the Cheshire cat when Adolf Hitler's Third Reich collapsed, Taliban stalwarts now travel incognito in Afghanistan's clan-based, tribal-based, and ethnically virulent terrain.

Violence or vendettas between local warlords predominate in major cities like Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, Gardez and Mazar-e Sharif.

Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbecks and Hazaras duel with one another with the enmity of Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets. King Zahir Shah, who purportedly returned from decades of luxuriant exile in Italy to foster unity, needs a fortress of Pretorian guards to prevent assassination.

The chimerical international strategy for plucking the flower of democracy from this nettle danger uncurtains next month. An exotic-sounding "loya jirga" will congregate to establish a temporary, 18-month government entrusted with fashioning a permanent constitution. A staggering 1,500 delegates will attend, compared with 55 at our acclaimed Constitutional Convention in 1787. As Founding Father James Madison presciently wrote in the Federalist: "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."

And not a single Socrates or epigone is likely to make even a cameo appearance at the loya jirga. At present, local meetings are under way in Afghanistan to select 1,100 delegates; 400 more will emerge from particular groups, like women, university faculty, religious scholars, and business professions. Selection procedures trumpet that "all forms of coercion, intimidation, bribery, corruption, use of force and weapons during the elections are banned."

They further require candidate affidavits disavowing complicity in terrorism or human rights violations. But no methods to enforce the edicts are provided; thus, they are notoriously honored in the breach rather than the observance. No secret ballots are cast; bribery is commonplace and underwritten from both domestic sources and monies pouring in from Iran, Russia and Pakistan; and, warlord candidates and their henchmen have been commonly selected by the force of bayonets, not popularity.

The inevitable poverty of self-government credentials within the loya jirga will be a recipe for disaster. Delegate heroes will smack much more of Genghis Khan or Tamerlane than George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

The delegates will never have experienced or practiced democracy as understood in the West. Their cultural mores will generally salute hierarchy, patriarchy and Pavlovian obedience, not majority rule, equality and freedom to dissent. None will be steeped in the science of self-government, a discipline Founding Father John Adams described as the most demanding and most critical for enlightened representative government.

The entire loya jirga farce should be abandoned. The United Nations, pushed and shoved by the United States, should impose an indefinite protectorate over Afghanistan. United Nations civil servants bolstered by U.N. troops should govern the nation. Democracy should be cultivated through education and textbooks, the media, indigenous advisory councils, and political training like that offered by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.

More than a decade of protectorate government will probably be needed to erect an Afghan democracy from the prevailing rubble and lawlessness.

But the price will be amply compensated. Terrorism and drug trafficking will be thwarted, diminished and punished. And the Afghan people will again dance for joy as they did at their American liberation from Taliban and al Qaeda.

The United Nations protectorate idea is no quixotic fancy. It succeeded in spades in East Timor, and a second impressive success story is being written in Kosovo.

It is not too late to avoid jumping off the loya jirga cliff.

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