Seattle Times features Commentary by IRI Election Observer

The Afghanistan Miracle
The Seattle Times
By Diane Tebelius
Having just returned from Kabul, where I served as an election observer from the United States to Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, I am convinced, now more than ever, that spreading democracy is the only long-term strategy to defeat global terrorism.

I have witnessed firsthand the “miracle” of Afghanistan. The Afghan people see Americans as liberators and welcome our support, but our delegation never left the hotel without a security detail or our 30-pound bulletproof vests. And that is the picture that is painted in Afghanistan — the hope of democracy, shaded by the uncertainty of terrorism.

For the historic parliamentary elections, men and women, old and young, defied the ongoing threats from Taliban holdouts and voted for a future free from oppression and violence. Nearly 6,000 candidates ran for the 249 seats in the National Assembly and for the 34 provincial councils.

Because the illiteracy rates are high — 80 percent of the women, due in part to the Taliban’s policy of denying women access to education, and 50 percent for men — the ballots included the picture of the candidate and a symbol for that candidate. And because there were more candidates than recognizable symbols, the candidates had symbols such as “one lion”; “two lions”; and even “three lions.” Posters spread about the city before the election identified each candidate by their respective symbol.

What struck me about these candidates were the issues they talked about: the same issues we find in our own public debates in Washington state. Transportation, safety and jobs headlined the different campaigns. However, unlike our state, where we debate millions of dollars to expand freeways or add bus lanes, Afghans just want the roads paved.

Infrastructure, economic opportunity, public safety and education must exist within the context of a free society. A prosperous and free people will not strap bombs to themselves and blow up innocent women and children for any cause.

In debating the “roots” of terrorism, you can talk about programs to help the poor, or debt relief, or diplomatic relations. But if the words “we the people,” or “the emancipation of women,” or “respect for the rule of law,” have no meaning, then there is only tyranny.

The women selling their wares on the streets of Kabul can now walk freely about without fear of being beaten if they are not covered from head to foot. The women who once were prisoners in their own homes because it was against the law to be seen in public without a man now joyfully take their daughters to school.

There, too, lies a key to fighting terrorism. Surveys of Muslims that were conducted after the July bombings in London found that women, by a large margin, were much less sympathetic to the ideology of terrorism than were the men.

Free the women, and you begin to safeguard future generations from the snares of Osama bin Laden and his culture of hatred and death.

But building democracy and the institutions that serve the common good and protect individual rights, means you can never escape the uncertainty.

The story of Afghanistan, and other emerging democracies around the world, should inspire us to stay the course. America and the free countries of this world must continue to provide aid and, yes, even military support to the peoples of Afghanistan.

My most memorable moment involved meeting a young lady who had lost her father in the civil wars. She and her mother and brother had fled to Pakistan, and then returned when the Taliban took control. They were forced to leave again when she was told she could not attend school or even work. I asked her why she and her family chose to return after the Taliban’s ouster, despite the uncertainty. “Because I love my country,” was her heartfelt response.

This is the hope and future of Afghanistan. With the world’s continued support, Afghans will succeed, terrorism will be defeated in that country, and the world will be safer.

Diane Tebelius, a former federal prosecutor and Republican congressional candidate, is an attorney in Seattle. She served as an observer in the Afghanistan elections under the sponsorship of the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting the growth of freedom and human rights globally. IRI is not affiliated with the Republican Party; it receives some funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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