Last month, the Taliban warned the people of Afghanistan that there would be dire consequences for those who dared to participate in the national elections that began on Saturday.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid emailed a statement to the media explaining that his “our way or else” organization had instructed its clerics across the country to persuade the people that the election was “an American conspiracy” rather than an opportunity for their country to advance its political independence.
“We have given orders to all our mujahedeen to use all force at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham election to target all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices,” the email warned.
Given the Taliban’s brutal history, such a warning would seem to be sufficient to discourage ordinary Afghans from going to the polls, but the early returns clearly suggest that exactly the opposite has happened. Of course, in a place as unstable as Afghanistan there’s always the possibility, if not the actual likelihood, that more violence is just around the corner.
But these early returns must be very encouraging to the worried decision-makers in Washington, who — like the American public at large — can’t wait to see Afghanistan stabilized politically, militarily, economically and, yes, religiously.
“Conducted under armed guard, the country’s third presidential election since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 unfolded without the large-scale attacks or major disruptions that many Afghans had feared, although scores of minor attacks were reported,” The Washington Post reported Sunday.
“As the process moves to a vote count that could take weeks and, potentially, lead to a second-round runoff, voters and observers expressed relief that the day had ended in relative peace,” the Post’s report continued.
It’s not that the Taliban has been totally pacified. In the two months leading up to this election, the extremists had dispatched 39 suicide bombers in a bid to destabilize the government and impede the election campaign.
Yet on Saturday so many Afghan voters went to the polls to choose their new president and provincial councils that officials had no choice but to extend the polling hours throughout the country.
In short, the voters were not intimidated. In fact, those of us who take voting for granted in the western democracies can only admire the courage and determination of these Afghan citizens who in the past have had so little experience with the tools of democracy.
One Afghan government official could not suppress his admiration for the people of his long-troubled country.
“Whenever there has been a new king or president,” he explained, “it has been accompanied by death and violence. For the first time we are experiencing democracy.”
The Taliban doesn’t like democracy and is perfectly willing to sacrifice the lives of its own followers if doing so will cripple the ruling government so badly that it gains the opportunity to regain the power it lost back in 2001.
But the people of Afghanistan remember what it was like to be ruled by leaders who would deny their daughters the right to an education, who preach intolerance to a degree seldom seen in the 21st century (or even earlier), and who famously destroyed the religious icons that were revered by those whose faith did not correspond to their own.
And so, in lining up to vote despite the very real threat of violence and retribution, the Afghan people have demonstrated their respect for the form of government that enables them to choose their own political leaders rather than requiring them to abide by the dictates of ruthless warlords or religious extremists.
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