WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The war against radical Islamic jihadists will be long and fought on many fronts. The Bush administration is employing military, diplomatic, law enforcement and legal efforts to bring the terrorists to justice, and progress is being made -- so much so, that the next phase of the war began last weekend. It wasn't a military operation by soldiers and Marines in Iraq; nor was it a new offensive by John Ashcroft or Tom Ridge here at home.
The next phase of the war against radical Islamic jihadists was launched by approximately 8 million Afghanis who went to the polls, under threat of death by Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers, to freely cast their vote for interim President Hamid Karzai or one of his 15 opponents. It was the first free election in the nation's history.
Though Afghanis have previously attempted Westernization, never before has the country experienced the responsibility of electing their own leaders as they did ON Oct. 9. In 1926, Afghan King Amanullah attempted to decrease the power of militant religious leaders, but he was quickly deposed. His cousin, Muhammad Nadir Khan, tried to continue his reforms but was assassinated as a result. Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, Afghanis continued to chafe under the callous grip of regional warlords.
For the last 25 years, Afghanistan has been at war. Soviet troops invaded in 1979 and for 10 years fought the Mujahideen. By 1996, fundamentalist students calling themselves "the Taliban" fought their way to power and subjected the Afghan people to a particularly harsh form of Islamic law.
It was under this regime that Al Qaeda set up terrorist training camps that produced terrorists who would attack the World Trade Center during the Clinton years, kill 19 sailors aboard the USS Cole and carry out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Just three short years later, the Taliban is toppled, the training camps are gone and the Afghan people are rejoicing that their U.S. liberators have given power to their voices.
They showed their appreciation by trekking to one of the 4,800 polling sites located in public buildings or mountain rest areas. In some places, there was over a foot of snow on the ground. Voters turned out in the early morning, well before the polls opened, and waited up to three or four hours to cast that historic ballot. Many citizens marked the dignity of the occasion by donning their best clothes and waiting in lines that stretched for nearly two miles.
The Afghan Army and National Police, by all accounts, did a great job providing a secure environment for voters and preventing any major attacks by terrorists. But the day was not without minor incident. In Konduz, a group of women were standing in line to vote when an explosive device detonated a few hundred yards away. They refused to move -- to do so, they reasoned, would be to give the terrorists a victory.
After all, these women like millions of others in Afghanistan, have, in the space of just three years, progressed from an environment in which they were treated like chattel to one in which they are helping to decide the future and fate of their country. When Afghanis learned they could select their leaders, public interest in the election soared. Said one prospective female voter, "I want a leader of my choice."
A poll conducted for the Asia Foundation found that 81 percent of Afghanis -- women included -- intended to vote, and 125,000 citizens signed up every day, despite Taliban threats to injure or kill voter registrants. Not even the pessimists at the United Nations or the Kerry campaign could dampen their spirits -- 77 percent of Afghanis believed elections would help their nation.
Though Taliban remnants vowed revenge against participants, Afghanis bravely and defiantly cast their ballots to prove that they are ready to govern their destiny. By voting in overwhelming numbers, the citizens of Afghanistan sent a message to the Taliban leaders and terrorists throughout the region that they are thankful for, and supportive of, American efforts to rid their country of evil. Maj. Scott Nelson of the United States Army put it this way, "Terrorists ... suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of millions of Afghans voting for freedom."
Sen. John Kerry, who portrays himself as some sort of "International Dale Carnegie," failed to recognize this historic achievement by the Afghan people. It's a pattern with Kerry. Prior to his snub of the Afghan elections, he belittled Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi minutes after Allawi addressed a joint session of Congress, thanking Americans for liberating his people from a brutal tyrant.
Kerry was also taken to task by Polish Prime Minister Aleksander Kwasniewski for failing to recognize the Polish contribution in Iraq. "It is really sad," Kwasniewski said, "that a senator with 20 years of experience does not notice the Polish input into the coalition and the Polish sacrifice. ... It is something immoral not to note the commitment which we embarked upon."
The Afghan achievement is enormous, and John Kerry and the media have sat on the sidelines as history has passed them by. It's their loss. But they'll have another chance to recognize a truly historic achievement when the people of Iraq get the same chance as the Afghanis had. Free elections will take place there, and the world will be better off when they do.