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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Growing pains to be expected in Afghanistan

Afghanistan inaugurated its first popularly elected parliament in more than three decades Monday.

In spite of concerns about the makeup of the legislature — many of the new lawmakers are reportedly regional strongmen — the historic national assembly is a welcome improvement in the country's move toward democracy.

Poverty, corruption and terrorism have reigned in the country, which has had no elected national assembly since 1973, when coups and a Soviet invasion plunged it into chaos. Civil war and the disastrous rule of the Taliban followed. The country's economy still relies heavily on opium production and the illegal-drug trade.

Many of the new lawmakers are regional strongmen. But many are not. A mix of tribal leaders, Westernized former refugees, warlords, women and ethnic minorities comprises the 249-seat body. Nearly a third of the delegates are women. There is broad representation, including sections of society that have gone unheard for decades.

Lawmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to forge order from decades of chaos and bring prosperity to a people that have too long known hardship. They will have to learn to compromise, make deals and sometimes subordinate their own interests to the good of others.

If they can accomplish that, they will gain the respect of the populace. More qualified candidates will participate in future elections and previously skeptical voters will thoughtfully elect their representatives.

Building an effective democratic government takes time. Afghanistan has taken a major step toward that end.

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