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.
During the second presidential debate, Bush noted that, "the way to defeat them (terrorists) in the long term, by the way, is to spread freedom. Liberty can change habits. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. But our long-term security depends on our deep faith in liberty. And we'll continue to promote freedom around the world. Freedom is on the march.
Tomorrow, Afghanistan will be voting for a president. In Iraq, we'll be having free elections, and a free society will make this world more peaceful."
That is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan. And hopefully that is what will happen in Iraq, as well.
Jean Arnault, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, cited the popular mobilization generated by voter registration, the beginnings of political pluralism reflected in the range of candidates and the continuing disarmament and security effort by international and Afghan forces as reasons why the election in Afghanistan would be successful. He noted, "This election is a process of accelerated transition from the rule of the gun."
Just think, after 25 years of war and control by the Taliban, which turned Afghanistan into a ruthless terror state, Afghanistan is now standing proudly in the Muslim world, proving the naysayers wrong and providing an extraordinary example of democracy for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
Moqadasa Sidiqi, a 19-year-old woman also made history by becoming the first woman to cast a vote in Afghanistan's presidential election. Sidiqi cast her ballot from a polling station in Islamabad, Pakistan. Her family fled Afghanistan in 1992. Although it may take a few weeks to get the election results, consider the following: More than 10 million people registered to vote, 40 percent of whom are women, which is a success in its own right.
In another victory for democratic freedom, Australians voted in favor of Prime Minister John Howard, who supported the invasion of Iraq and contributed Australian troops to compel regime change in Iraq. After the Spanish election, the Australian election, like the election in Afghanistan, served as a global test for the anti-war strategy being pursued by President Bush. Terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida tried to influence the Australian election by setting off a bomb outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. But unlike the Spanish, the Australians overwhelming supported the incumbent, providing a strong vote for international resolve in the face of terrorist threats.
The elections in both Australia and Afghanistan have delivered two critical foreign policy successes for our nation and the Lincolnian view that democracy is the ultimate destiny of mankind.