By Don Ritter and Atiq Panjshir
meaning of the recent Afghan presidential election cannot be overestimated.
It should give hope to the Americans and people around the world
that the greatest enemy of the ideology of radical Islam, liberty,
has won a historic victory. We all need to take a deep breath,
consider the meaning of Oct. 9, and after that thank the Afghan
Our Afghan friends over there describe a new feeling of confidence,
a cheery demeanor reflected in the faces of the people on the
street. They talk about the victory of ballots over bullets. Even
"warlords" of all stripes participated in the election
process. They realize that the Era of the Gun is coming to an
end and they want to get in on the action.
But it has been so quiet in our own mainstream media: They've
moved on. After the election was defined as an overall success,
the TV news barely covered the story. To them, the real story
would have been the disruption of the election: more on the wrong
ink, voting more than once by a lot of people--any variation on
the theme of election failure and the juicy story of how bad it
might have looked for an incumbent U.S. president. Indeed, that's
probably still the case.
The adage that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an
orphan was reversed by the mainstream media.
How can America fight and win a war when it doesn't get to see
its own victories? How good is it for the morale of our troops
and their families when everything they sacrificed for is dismissed
into 10 or 15 seconds or nothing on the evening news? America
had the courage to go to war to liberate a people in a distant
land, and America, with a serious coalition of allies, and those
very people are winning the war. We, as a nation, need to pause
a moment and take some credit.
In that part of the world, so central to the war on terror, Afghanistan
shares long borders with both Iran, which sponsors terrorism and
Pakistan, where terrorists find haven. Afghanistan is a country
that was occupied by the inhuman Taliban and last but not least,
it served as the home base for Osama bin Laden himself. Turning
such adversity into theOct. 9 election was no mean task.
The enemies of freedom for the Afghan people like the Taliban
and al Qaeda, claiming to represent the future of Islam, those
terrorists who are pulling out all the stops to disrupt democracy
in both Afghanistan and Iraq, have experienced their biggest defeat
to date. The symbolism for the region, with Iraq just across Iran
from Afghanistan, and indeed for the whole of the Muslim world,
is enormous. A very traditional Muslim society has just engaged
in the democratic process and elected itself a president. Parliamentary
elections are scheduled for next spring.
Can it be that Muslims love freedom like everyone else?
Of course, there is plenty of work to be done. To stay on the
offensive, Afghanistan should accelerate the process of government
reform, whereby those who govern are selected more for their competence
in doing their job and less for their tribe or ethnicity. It can
move to reduce corruption in the bureaucracy and increase transparency.
The national army can be strengthened and militias demobilized.
President Hamid Karzai deserves credit for his bold moves before
the election to diminish some of the major non-national concentrations
of military power and the results of the election will allow him
to do a lot more.
Serious work remains to diminish the opium trade, a big job not
only for the producing nation but for the consuming nations as
well. A lot of the fight will depend on whether the Afghan government's
economic policies are capable of stimulating large-scale and rapid
job creation in the private sector, particularly in agriculture-related
Donor-nation assistance will flow more easily and the Afghan government's
attention to the economy, specific emerging tax policies, and
"rule of law" issues will increase. As this article
is being written, Afghanistan has a golden opportunity to create
tax policies that are not only friendly to investment and economic
growth but are the envy of other nations in that part of the world.
A new force for economic progress, the Afghan International Chamber
of Commerce, has emerged to boost such tax policies, guide the
country's transition to a modern market economy and boost investment.
The thousands upon thousands of nation-building deeds performed
daily across Afghanistan demand exposure to a wider public. They
represent the many small steps that when taken together overwhelm
the much smaller number of shootings and bomb blasts. They create
an attractive landscape in which to build lives, families and
businesses. They provide hope to Americans and Afghans alike who
need to know what's going right not just what's going wrong.
Don Ritter is senior adviser to the
Afghan International Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of
the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce (AACC). Atiq Panjshiri
is an Afghan American businessman and president of the AACC.