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MONDAY, MARCH 27, 2006
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EDITORIAL

U.S. didnít support Afghans so they could kill Christians

The good guys who took over Afghanistan with American help turned out to have too much in common with the bad guys.

The Taliban government, which preceded the present government headed by President Hamid Karzai, was notorious for its religious intolerance. The United States helped Afghan rebels oust the Taliban because the Taliban aided al-Qaida terrorists. The new government adopted a constitution that proclaims religious freedom.

But that constitution also declares the Islamic religion supreme, and Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan put Abdul Rahman, now 41, on trial because he converted to Christianity from Islam 16 years ago when he was out of the country. The penalty for such a conversion is death under their interpretation of Islamic law.

Leaders of the United States and other civilized countries, as well as the pope, called on Mr. Karzai to intervene. On Sunday a court dismissed the case against Mr. Rahman and Afghan officials said he might be released as early as today.

But a spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court said the dismissal resulted from "problems with the prosecutors' evidence." He said the defendant's relatives had testified that he was mentally unstable and prosecutors must "decide if he is mentally fit to stand trial." So it appears that the charges could be reinstated.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government should protect the man from being killed by vigilantes, which is a real possibility considering how inflamed some Muslim leaders have gotten over this case.

President Bush ought to speak with Mr. Karzai personally, insisting that this prosecution be permanently dropped and that Mr. Rahman be protected. Mr. Bush also should say that failure to do this, or any future such incidents, will undermine American support for the Afghan government.

In the end, though, Afghanistan is a sovereign country not obligated to follow American principles of human rights. Short of forcibly imposing our own rule on another nation, we have limited influence on the choices its people or their leaders will make — a lesson that applies to Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

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