Rich Galen

Afghanistan will hold its second-ever elections for President on Thursday. The Afghans will also be holding their second-ever elections for provincial councils. It will be the first time the two elections are held on the same day.

I am here as a member of the official observer mission with the International Republican Insititute and will be leaving Kabul, later today, for a location outside of the capitol city, but I'll tell you where after I've arrived there.

Afghanistan is not known for its long periods of calm and peace. In 329 BC it was invaded by Alexander the Great who found the Afghans impossible to subdue and for the ensuing 2,338 years every other conqueror has met the same fate.

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The most recent conquerors have been the Soviet Union, the United States, the Taliban, and the United States - again.

Following the attacks of September 11, the United States invaded Afghanistan to throw out the ruling Taliban on the grounds that the Taliban had been harboring - indeed had welcomed - Osama bin Laden who, in turn, set up camps to train al-Qaeda terrorists.

The Taliban retreated to Pakistan, regrouped and have rebounded in, especially, the southern part of Afghanistan although they have re-established themselves in other regions of the country as well.

There is not much to recommend Afghanistan which, according to the few Afghans I have spoken to, is just fine with the locals. When I was here in 2005 to watch the first provincial elections, I was sent to Bamiyan which is the place where the Taliban blew up those huge statues of Buddha which had been carved into the mountainside.

We went overland which was a longish trip. As I wrote at the time:

Although Bamiyan is only about 100 miles from Kabul as the crow flies, the trip takes 11 hours, because crows don't fly between Kabul and Bamiyan.

With all that as background we come to the national elections on Thursday in which the current president, Hamid Karzai will be joined on the ballot by 40 other candidates for the job.

Recent polling shows Karzai - for whom Western enthusiasm appears to be waning - leading the pack, but it is unclear whether he can get the 50% plus 1 necessary to avoid a runoff against the man most likely to come in second, Abdullah Abdullah.

I know, I know - so good they had to name him twice. But it's like naming your kid Bob if your last name is "Roberts" or Bill if it is "Williams."

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at