Just weeks after 9/11, the United States launched an invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and deny al Qaida its training ground and safe haven. The rubble at ground zero of the World Trade Center attacks had not yet been cleared, and America was grimly determined to bring those responsible for the deadliest terrorist attacks in history to justice.
But that was well over a decade ago, and it’s difficult to maintain that level of resolve over such an extended period of time. The conflict in Afghanistan now has the dubious distinction of being the longest war in United States history. With so many lives lost and such a great expense of both time and treasure, many now wonder whether the Afghanistan war has been worth the cost.
That’s a question with no objective answer, but those looking for positive results of America’s efforts would do well to consider the events of last Saturday, when the Afghani people turned out to the polls in record numbers to choose new leaders in Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic transfer of power.
That’s a stunning achievement for a country that, prior to this century, had no history of democratic governance and was viewed by the world community as a failed state. The Taliban’s oppressive, brutal governance of the nation found no credible opposition from legitimate, democratic institutions, and many questioned whether the nation was even capable of democracy.
But the Afghani people are proving the doubters wrong.
Voters in Saturday’s election showed up at the polls despite the very real dangers they faced in exercising their franchise. The Taliban vowed to thwart the vote with bombings and assassinations. Dozens were killed in attacks in the weeks leading up to the election, and several polling places reported violence directed at police and voters. In the province of Kunar, two voters were killed and 14 were wounded.
Yet on Saturday, 58 percent of eligible voters would not be deterred. They cast their ballots to determine who would succeed Afghani President Hamid Karzai – about 7 million voters in all. That’s a massive increase over the 4.5 million voters who went to the polls in the last election in 2009. Clearly, many Afghanis are ready and eager to establish a permanent democratic government that will outlast its first president.
Granted, even such a remarkable achievement may not persuade the war’s critics that the long conflict was justified, and there are certainly a number of other considerations at issue here. But good news ought to be celebrated, and the sacrifices of those who have served and are serving in this conflict may be honored by calling attention to significant accomplishments. The world is a better place because Afghanistan now is assuming responsibility for its destiny, and it would not have been able to do so without the commitment and dedication of the United States to see this effort through.
Americans should congratulate Afghanistan on a successful election and look forward to many more in the years to come.