What a thrill is was to see women voting in Afghanistan for the first time over this past weekend. The sentiment of the moment was best captured by Afghani Muhammad Amin Aslami, who said, "In the whole history of Afghanistan this is the first time we come and choose our leader in democratic process and free condition. I feel very proud and I feel very happy." Muhammad Hussein added, "It's like independence day, or freedom day."
The sentiment expressed by Aslami and Hussein was echoed by scores more across the country. Despite some glitches, Afghani men and women lined up for hours, amid threats of violence, to cast their votes for the first democratically elected leader in their nation's 5,000-year history.
Just a few weeks ago many pundits, including international "experts" in America and elsewhere, said elections could not be conducted in Afghanistan.
David Brooks rebutted these presumptions with an excellent article in The New York Times highlighting the horrible conditions faced by Salvadorans as they went to the polls in 1982. Brooks wrote, "The country was in the midst of a civil war that would take 75,000 lives. An insurgent army controlled about a third of the nation's territory. Just before Election Day, the insurgents stepped up their terror campaign. They attacked the National Palace, staged highway assaults that cut the nation in two and blew up schools that were to be polling places. Yet voters came out in the hundreds of thousands."
Similarly, there were widespread threats of violence in Afghanistan in the run-up to the election. The expected threat to the elections from remnants of the Taliban regime failed to materialize, even though it had been reported that militants distributed leaflets saying that anyone who killed a poll worker would earn divine reward and those who registered would be punished.
At a campaign stop in St. Louis, President Bush took a moment and proudly announced the progress Afghanistan has made, observing, "Just three years ago, women were being executed in the sports stadium. Today they are voting for a leader of a free country." The president also added a special thanks to our men and women in uniform who defeated the Taliban and liberated Afghanistan - without whom no election would have been possible. It is a proud day in the war on terror, for the Afghan people and for Americans. It is a proud day for freedom.