- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

By Kay Granger, John Kline, Jim Gerlach, Geoff Davis and Ted Poe

Millions of Afghans ignored threats of violenceand voted recently in the country’s first parliamentary election held in two decades. While preliminary results will not be available until October, a look at what happened on Election Day illustrates the desire of the Afghan people to remove the shackles of the Taliban regime and courageously rebuild their country and government.

Just four years ago, Afghanwomenwere banned from holding jobs or appearing in public without covering themselves from head to foot. Girls were not allowed to attend school. But in the new parliament elected on Sept. 18, women will hold at least 68 of the 249 seats.

President Hamid Karzai praised the elections: “We are making history. It’s the day of self-determination for the Afghan people. After 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations and misery, today Afghanistan is moving forward, making an economy, making political institutions.”Approximately 6,000 polling sites operated throughout the country, not daunted by terrorist threats or treacherous terrain. Also noteworthy was the fact that 5,800 candidates vied for seats in the parliament. The astoundingnumbersof Afghan men and women who put their names on the ballot is quite an achievement and a testament to their belief in representative government.

Since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom, nearly 9 million Afghans voted in a democratic election for president in October. Moreover, coalition forces have eliminated al Qaeda safe havens and have removed the Taliban from power.

The recent elections are proof of yet another milestonereachedas Afghanistan moves forward. Allied forces have started or completed more than 5,300 projects to rebuild Afghanistan’s essential water and sanitation systems, health care, transportation infrastructure and schools. Specifically, this includes 500 schools, 6,771 miles of roads, 20 hospitals and 219 clinics that are being built or repaired through coalitions or U.S. Agency for International Development programs.

Remnants of the Taliban remain determined to disrupt the progress the Afghan people have made in rebuilding their country and continue their attempts to terrorize citizens so they wouldn’t vote. However, their terrorist activities did not inhibit millions of citizens — including a vast number of women — from voting. Nor were they effective during last year’s elections, as millions of Afghansemphatically demonstrated their rejection of Taliban violence and asserted their desire to have a representative and democratically elected government.

The United States committed $40 million to the United Nations to assist with these parliamentary elections and separately committed another $20 million in funding for voter education, political-party development, building civil society, women’s civic initiatives, parliamentary support and election-monitoring efforts.

Under the oppressive Taliban regime, women were not allowed outside their homes to seek medical care or to obtain education. With the demise of the Taliban, women are no longer prisoners in their own homes. Moreover, within the last three years, with the assistance of the State Department and other organizations, women now have the opportunity to receive medical treatment and education.

Currently, 5 million Afghan children are registered in school; 40 percent of them are girls. This is the highest percentage of femalestudentsin Afghanistan’s history. Since 2001, the United States has provided $60.5 million for education, including funds for teacher training, books and supplies.

The United States has provided more than $87 million for health-care programs in Afghanistan, focusing on reducing one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. These programs include training women as health-care workers and midwives, providing maternal/neonatal tetanus immunizations, improving hospital care and strengthening maternal and child health and nutrition services in rural areas.

Overall, the United States has provided basic health services to about seven million people.

The search for Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda and the Taliban continues. In the meantime,morethan three-quarters of al Qaeda’s members have been either detained or killed. U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan remain committed to eradicating the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and we remain committed to seeing democratic reforms succeed.

The Sept. 18 elections were a historic opportunity for the Afghan people to chart the future course of their country. They did not shy away from the challenge. They were not deterred by terrorists or remnants of the Taliban. They voted and stood for a new representative government.

Their courage and success inspires all of us.

Reps. Kay Granger, Texas Republican; John Kline, Minnesota Republican; Jim Gerlach, Pennsylvania Republican; Geoff Davis, Kentucky Republican; and Ted Poe, Texas Republican, are members of the Congressional War on Terror Public Affairs Team.

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