TCS Daily

Forward Strategy Against the Apostles of Hate

By Richard S. Williamson - October 13, 2004 12:00 AM

The great threat to the civilized world is the hatred and fanaticism of Islamic extremists willing to use terror to advance their narrow world view. These extremists seek to hijack a great religion and they intend to destroy anything that stands in their way and anyone who does not subscribe to their extremist ideology.

The terrorists must be met on their own turf so we do not have to fight them on our own land. We will need the resolve to use force to defeat terrorists when we must. And to achieve an enduring victory we must replace hatred and division with tolerance and pluralism.

Democracy and the freedom it brings teach tolerance and allow pluralism to flourish. Saturday's Presidential election in Afghanistan was an extraordinary victory for the Afghan people. But it also was a victory against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and terrorists everywhere.

I was co-leader of an American election observer mission to Afghanistan sponsored by the International Republican Institute. Our bipartisan delegation landed in Kabul hours after a rocket had exploded near the American embassy. This attack was part of a broad pattern of violence by the enemies of Afghanistan who hoped to intimidate the voters and deny the election the broad participation required for legitimacy.

There had been assassination attempts targeting President Karzai and Vice President Shahrani. Electoral staff had been killed in Taliban attacks. Militants killed at least 18 people merely for possessing voter registration cards. The day before the election a large tanker truck was intercepted with 5 tons of explosives.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda understood the great threat to their ideology of hate and destruction posed by the advance of democracy. But the people of Afghanistan understood the promise and hope provided by the ballot box. They would not be intimidated. They would not be deterred.

On election day, notwithstanding the dangers, for the first time in the 5,000 years of Afghan history the people went to polling centers throughout Afghanistan to cast their votes. Millions of women were among the voters. In Kabul there was a sandstorm on election day. Still the people came. There were long orderly lines of voters determined to gain control of their destiny.

There were some technical difficulties. But the polling center supervisors knew how to seek help and the people waited in line. At one polling center I saw a line of about 150 men who had patiently waited 2 hours for voting to resume. They had waited their entire lives to have a say in choosing their leader. They were not about to let a few more hours wait deter them from their mission.

Men and women streamed to the polls. While ethnic identities continued to have a pull, the voters came to select a leader for all Afghanistan. Through their votes, they moved Afghanistan from a country composed of Pashton, Tijirk, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and other ethnic groups toward a unified nation.

As Abdul Salam, a teacher at the Secondary School of Makha Badakhahe said to me on election day, "No matter who wins, the people will accept the new President because the people are making the decision. Today I am so happy."

The Greater Middle East in many ways is dysfunctional and is causing most of our problems. It is the new front line of freedom. Bringing security, stability and democracy to Afghanistan is a vital mission for U.S. security. But also it is a moral mission, a noble cause. The Afghan people have lived desperate lives victimized by those who gain from division. By helping these people begin a democratic process we have helped them and ourselves.

In democratic systems there are no final victories. Winners are accountable to the people and losers have a responsibility to contribute, too. Saturday's presidential election in Afghanistan is not an end, but the beginning of a journey that will bring a more enduring peace and a more sustainable stability.

President Bush's Forward Strategy of Freedom is the sensible approach. Democracy can flourish in Muslim countries. And through democratic, free societies tolerance will supplant intolerance and pluralism can bridge divisions.

I saw the brave women and men in Afghanistan casting their first votes. I saw the determination in their faces and the hope in their eyes. The election was not perfect. But the problems were technical and they were few. The participation was wide. And the result will be legitimate. Saturday the Afghan people took an important step toward a brighter future for themselves and inflicted another defeat to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the apostles of hate.

The author served as Ambassador and Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, 2002-2003.


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