Afghanistan's Philadelphia

Many in Europe say the US is dreamily naive in trying to turn two Muslim nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, into democracies after liberating them from oppressive rulers.

Democracy, they say, may be an antidote to terrorism, but it takes generations to grow from within.

A post-9/11 United States, however, can't afford to wait.

Iraq has only begun the task, and far too slowly for President Bush. But Monday, two years after the war that ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan released a selected panel's draft of a constitution that could lead to elections next year.

The draft reflects trade-offs needed to create a consensus for an elected government among a very diverse people. Despite decades of monarchical, Communist, and Islamist rule, Afghanistan's feudal culture has the building blocks for democracy in its villages, where elders must lead by consensus. Next month, the draft goes before the country's traditional assembly, or loya jirga, for final review.

The draft attempts to balance Islamic traditions against Western-style rights and liberties. Women, for instance, are not mentioned specifically, but rights are given to "all Afghans." It also avoids dividing up power among the country's factions by calling for a strong presidency and a ban on political parties based on ethnic, religious, military, or regional lines.

In the long run, such legal details will matter in creating an Afghanistan that won't again be a terrorist base. In the meantime, most Afghans worry more about reconstruction and continued fighting by warlords and remnants of the Taliban. As in Iraq, security and democracy-building must go hand in hand.

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