Aryn Baker in Time Magazine:
Nearly four years after the U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Taliban, Afghanistan is still stumbling on the path to peace and stability. The country is nowhere near as violent as it was before; it has a new constitution that enables the establishment of civil institutions like an independent judiciary; and foreign investment is trickling in. Outside the capital Kabul, however, much of the hinterland remains poor and lawless, often controlled by rival warlords and drug barons who do not answer to the central authorities. The presidential election that Hamid Karzai won last year should have given the divided country a unifying leader. But Karzai has been hamstrung by the lack of a parliament or local government bodies, and many Afghans derisively call him “mayor of Kabul.”
Afghanistan will only become a true democracy when citizens can turn for help to locally elected leaders, rather than armed warlords. That’s why this week’s polls are potentially so important.