This Saturday, April 5th, 2014, the Afghan people will go to the polls for the third time ever in their history to choose a new president to lead them. The first democratic election in Afghanistan was filled with hope as Afghans saw the chance to finally decide their destiny. The second election, a few years later, was fraught with despair as the honeymoon period after the Taliban’s fall gave way to the realities of corruption and factionalism. Yet it seems from the response of regular Afghans to this latest election process that democracy, Afghan style, is alive and well despite the negative views of the many naysayers who call Afghanistan a failed experiment.
Democracy takes time. Unfortunately, in a war ravaged, ancient tribal society that had been isolated from the rest of the world for decades, time is something that is not in great supply. Modern democracy must happen quickly, say the experts, or it will not happen at all. They sometimes forget that all democracies, even our own American one, were built, not hatched. Democracy is a process. Its development is often rough around the edges.
The consolidation of any democracy requires much effort. For a third world country like Afghanistan with tribal tendencies, the process is even more complex. Yet the Afghan people seem to be rising above the dangers in security they face and the corruption that surrounds them and are moving to consolidate their democracy. Long lines of citizens are lining up to register to vote despite vicious attacks of insurgent forces against the process. Election posters loom large over the crowds at the big marketplaces in cities like Kabul and candidates are engaging the populace in discussions about the many challenges facing them. Afghan journalists are working to spread the messages of those candidates to all Afghans, even those who are in the remotest of places in that sprawling landscape.
For the West, it may well seem that the Afghan experiment has failed. The possibility of a total pull out of US forces would be a welcome relief after so many years of war and sacrifice for a place so far away. Yet what may seem expedient may also mask the fact that there has been a tangible victory in the battle for Afghanistan. The Taliban, with is repression and cruelty, are not in control. Their tactics speak of a wounded lion seeking to reinstate a former greatness. Even the massive levels of corruption that have made their way into all levels of Afghan life have not deterred the people from believing that another, better, way is possible.
This Saturday the world will see whether the Afghan people believe in the possibilities that were given to them since the new Afghanistan was created after 9/11. Will a new Afghan democracy be raised up from the ashes of the past? Or is there more work yet to be done? Either way, this is no time to abandon Afghanistan.