June 13, 2004 | Washington Post

Afghanistan Leader and Hero

Since September 11, 2001, it has become clear a stable, democratic future for Afghanistan is integrally linked to American national security. A country devastated by more than 20 years of war, Afghanistan has endured many tragedies such as brutal Soviet occupation, internecine violence between the resistance jihadi parties, and most recently al Qaeda terrorism.

In each period, political elites based their power on financial corruption and military coercion. By disregarding the need to elicit consent for governance, Afghanistan's leaders failed to establish a stable political order. Instability in Afghanistan hastened the rise of al Qaeda.

Given this historical context, success in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan requires an honest and incorruptible leader focused on cautiously establishing democratic institutions and traditions.

The United States, the international community and Afghanistan are very fortunate to have in that country a courageous and capable democratic leader in President Hamid Karzai at this crucial juncture. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Karzai enjoys the trust of the Afghan nation.

Afghans support Mr. Karzai due to his strong personal qualities of democratic vision, leadership and integrity. Mr. Karzai and his family are famous for championing democracy and honest political leadership. His presidency clearly demonstrates these values. Mr. Karzai is considered one of the most honest and incorruptible leaders of our time.

In addition to his personal uprightness, Mr. Karzai's ethics are further exhibited by his relying on democratic moral persuasion rather than the force of arms to rule Afghanistan. Unequivocal public and moral support for Mr. Karzai is clearly evident through the confidence shown for his presidency and constitution in the Loya Jirgas, Afghanistan's traditional assembly of local and national leaders.

Afghanistan's way to stability and democracy definitely faces a number of important obstacles. It is true there are U.S. allies who are corrupt. Moreover, al Qaeda, the Taliban and warlordism continue threatening the political process. As the security and destinies of both nations are intertwined, success is contingent upon responsible U.S.-Afghanistan partnership in confronting these obstacles.

Long-term success against terrorism requires attacking al Qaeda at its foundation. Afghanistan is, therefore, crucial to vanquishing al Qaeda. Afghanistan, under the Taliban, was the country al Qaeda chose for its model and headquarters.

Muslim countries modeled after the Taliban will advance al Qaeda's ideals, activities and endanger U.S. national security. Furthering democratization and stability in Afghanistan will strike at the very heart of al Qaeda's ideological modus operandi. Failure in Afghanistan, subsequently, would be regarded as an al Qaeda victory over the U.S. That is why it is so important for the United States to establish a 21st century version of the Marshall Plan for Afghanistan.

Without President Karzai's moral leadership and America's assistance, Afghanistan would have great difficulty fulfilling its role in the partnership against terrorism. Afghanistan without Mr. Karzai could conceivably dissolve into civil war.

With President Karzai, Afghanistan will move toward being a stable, democratic and effective ally. It is thus important to honor Hamid Karzai's role in the war against terrorism.

Jack Kemp, former congressman from New York and Republican vice presidential candidate, is a co-director of Empower America.