- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009


Presidential elections will be held in Afghanistan in August. The campaign is under way. The right president for Afghanistan should be elected not because he represents a particular ethnic group or simply to please the international community but because he will be able to reverse an increasingly deteriorating situation.

Such a president should be able to fight corruption, give more power to the provinces and Parliament - and give hope to the Afghan people. It does not matter if such a president is Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara or Uzbek. Afghan democrats could care less - they want above all to be Afghan citizens.

We constantly hear that no one is able to replace President Hamid Karzai. That is an insult to Afghans. They are fed up with bad governance and corruption, and the incumbent is naturally saddled with this outrage.

For years, the international community has cried wolf whenever a warlord has been taken seriously, but it is ready to accommodate Mr. Karzai when he chooses Mohammad Qasim Fahim as one of his vice-presidential candidates. It should be recalled that Mr. Fahim had to leave the government because of his connections to corruption. Having him placed on Mr. Karzai’s ticket is a cynical political maneuver aimed at dividing the main opposition party: the United Front.

The United Front is a coalition of small parties that together overthrew the Taliban under the banner of the Northern Alliance. Its leaders included warlords as well as committed democrats advocating a moderate Islam - such was commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

But the Afghan people no longer want these divisions fabricated by the petty tactics of politicians. They already have suffered from them too often and too much. They are largely responsible for the pitiful security situation and corruption of the recent past.

We must respect the kind of democracy the Afghans themselves want, a democracy that integrates Afghan culture while at the same time purging the evils of the past. However, this still must be a democracy that respects human rights, and particularly, the rights of women.

We also should not be pushing for negotiations with the Taliban. Nor should we be labeling as Taliban those who fought beside them these past few years out of desperation because of the extreme poverty in which they found themselves, which tempted them to accept Taliban dollars.

The Taliban will become irrelevant spectators, and their insurgent allies will abandon their weapons when the Afghan people have renewed confidence in their government. This will happen when the Afghan army is once again strong and its soldiers are given decent pay; when roads are built, there are more schools, teachers receive proper training and good pay, and Afghans have work. It will only be then that we can envisage the gradual withdrawal of our troops and turn over the security of the country to the Afghan army.

There are exceptional men and women in Afghanistan capable of rebuilding their country. We must help them overcome the ghosts of their past and get beyond ethnic rivalries and extremist temptations. They want us to help them do this; they want us to help them take their own road to democracy.

In the short term, we must help them make sure that the election in August is clearly democratic and free of fraud as well as free of the fear of fraud. In the short term, the majority of Afghans want our troops to remain as a rampart against the Taliban, but they also want our troops to treat them with caution and dignity.

If there is a free and democratic election, we will see if the Afghans will re-elect a president who has led them into the current chaos, who has given guarantees to extremists, who has chosen as one of his future vice presidents a warlord, and who on top of all this has undertaken negotiations with yet another warlord, the extremist fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

But whoever the winner will be, only a clean and fair election will give him the legitimacy needed to lead all of his people to the future they want - and not a regression to their recent tragic and bloody past.

If not, what will have been the purpose of our long war in Afghanistan ?

Patricia Lalonde is the chairwoman of Mobilization for Elected Women in Afghanistan, a French nongovernmental organization that helps rebuild schools in Afghanistan.

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