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Afghan Voter Drive Shows Country Ready for Democracy

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2004 – The number of people who have registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections in October has exceeded the rosiest expectations, Afghan and American officials said here today.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said more than 9.4 million Afghans have registered to vote. Of these, 41.6 percent are women.

"The surge in registration that has taken place throughout the country has to be a very vivid demonstration of the Afghan people's determination to make democracy work," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a joint news conference with Karzai.

The United Nations is leading the effort on the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections that will follow. U.N. officials say they have every expectation of a "free and fair" election in Afghanistan.

The voter registration numbers seemed to catch people by surprise. Rumsfeld said that when officials first discussed Afghan elections, they thought it would be a success if they registered between 3 million and 5 million people.

The registration success is against the backdrop of Taliban holdouts and al Qaeda sympathizers trying to disrupt the effort. Karzai said 12 registrars have been killed during the drive.

Rumsfeld called the voter numbers "impressive," and that the accomplishment "says a great deal about the prospects for the future of this important country."

Karzai said that the progress the country is making is because the Afghan people "have the great will and enthusiasm to make the country a place where all can live properly with good will and opportunity."

Rumsfeld and Karzai also spoke of the opium problem in Afghanistan. This year many farmers have turned to the opium poppy for money. With adequate rainfall, the crop is huge, officials said.

The Afghan government is working to confront this problem and the other problems drug money can bring. Rumsfeld said the world is well aware of the problem and will work together and with the Afghans to confront it.

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