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In Afghanistan, Taking a Risk for Democracy

The Washington Post

Letters to the Editor


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Former senior U.N. official Peter W. Galbraith ["What I Saw at the Afghan Election," Outlook, Oct. 4] and some in the Western press are trying to act as judge, jury and executioner when dealing with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 national elections. The Afghan government and the United Nations have never denied that there were irregularities and instances of rigging, but it would be an exercise in futility for any party to deprive Afghans of their sovereign right to elect a leader, a right for which many sacrificed life and limb.

U.S. history offers its own parallel to what is happening in Afghanistan.

Abraham Lincoln didn't break with America's democratic tradition even during the Civil War; the presidential election of 1864 went ahead during a bloody period in which more than 600,000 soldiers and civilians died. Lincoln's aides were divided on the issue, and opponents favored postponing the election until its safe conduct and validity could be ensured.

A similar situation played out this year in Afghanistan when a host of President Hamid Karzai's aides and U.S. and U.N. officials vigorously attempted to persuade him to delay the elections until a more opportune time. Mr. Karzai remained steadfast, arguing that he would not go down in history as setting a precedent that would allow any future leader with good intent or ulterior motive to harm Afghanistan's democratic process.

America's 1864 election was held without women, slaves and Indians being allowed to participate, and it spawned claims of fraud. Lincoln defeated the Democratic nominee, Gen. George McClellan, with overwhelming support among Union soldiers.

Just as the United States under Lincoln struggled to preserve the democratic tradition, Mr. Karzai also subjected himself to the risk of losing the election, since most of Afghanistan's southwest was heavily affected by the ongoing terrorist assault.

Despite negative coverage by the world media, which had the potential of creating conflict and confusion, millions of Afghan citizens chose to vote in the face of deadly attacks by the very extremists who have vowed to carry the war to the heartland of the West.


Kabul, Afghanistan

The writer is a political adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


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