- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

Drug runners, warlords and former Taliban members will be among the candidates in Afghanistan’s parliamentary and provincial elections tomorrow. Political Islam will likely make a comeback after the election. Given Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain and rough infrastructure, ballot counting will be slow, providing opportunities for vote rigging. Many if not most Afghans will be voting on the basis of ethnicity and tribal affiliation, rather than particular political platforms. Even with all these flaws, the Afghan election promises to be a historic achievement in and of itself.

Afghans will be selecting among 6,000 candidates, including almost 600 women, for the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga, and provincial councils. Women have 68 guaranteed seats out of 249 in the parliament. Elected parliamentarians will take their seats in November. More than 12 million people have registered to vote — 2 million more than registered for the presidential vote in last October.

The lineup for the election may not be ideal, but it does reflect Afghanistan’s current society and power structures — such is the nature of a democracy. Some worthwhile efforts were made to vet from the elections the most abusive of candidates. But to have limited the election to bureaucratic candidates with no local power base would have rendered it more or less meaningless. The election will demonstrate that Afghanistan is reaching the key goals needed for establishing an independent nation. The accomplishment will help stir the democratic yearnings of the peoples of Central Asia and Pakistan.

For Afghan President Hamid Karzai, though, having to share power with the incoming legislators and provincial councils will further challenge his federal rule, which is already limited. His power of the purse will therefore be critical. If Mr. Karzai is to reward responsible governance and extend the presence and reach of the federal government, he will need outside support. Donor countries should begin by providing the president with the resources they have already pledged.

There are widespread concerns that Taliban and al Qaeda remnants could derail the elections through terrorist violence. Those elements are probably not now capable of launching debilitating attacks. NATO and U.S. forces have been bolstered for the election, with NATO deploying 2,000 troops to supplement its existing force of 8,000. In addition, U.S. troops now number about 21,000. Pakistan should also step up efforts to prevent jihadists from infiltrating in an effort to sabotage the elections.

Giving Afghans the right to select their political representatives has required years of concerted efforts by military forces, the international community, NGOs and the Afghan people themselves. Those Afghans that registered for the vote risked their lives in order to do so, and will be facing the same kind of threats tomorrow. The election, if relatively successful, should be hailed as a victory, but the months to come will determine the staying power of Afghanistan’s democracy. Now is the time for donor countries to show their support.

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