Because of these countless psychological and structural missteps, influential, democratically minded Afghans -- and those who support them -- must focus more sharply on a political transition, without which any "military transition" will ultimately be meaningless. And for a successful political transition, Afghanistan needs every country involved in its rebuilding effort to send a clear message to today's Afghan leadership demanding a democratic transition of power based on the principles of free and fair elections. Instead of abandoning democracy because it hasn't worked under a kleptocracy, Afghanistan and the international community must clean it up.
Can this be done in just over a year? Yes. The time until the 2014 elections must be used to implement procedures that support democracy. Our international partners, in particular the United States, should ensure the positioning of foreign observers to keep a clean tally of the votes. Karzai and the Afghan parliament should approve new voter registration procedures to ensure that every voter's voice -- new and old -- is heard. Our parliament needs to mandate the vetting of all election officials who will oversee election centers, rather than accepting them as a result of presidential decree, as they are now. There needs to be an independent body to resolve all electoral disputes -- an independent Electoral Complaints Commission whose members are selected transparently and with meaningful consultations among Afghan political opposition groups, parliament, civil society, and others.
Karzai must clearly illustrate his willingness both to step down when his constitutionally limited time is up and to promise not to interfere in the election process, addressing the top two concerns of the Kabul political elite. Taking into account our recent presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2010, state resources should not be used to influence the outcome of the elections.
The political transition, based entirely on credible and transparent elections, is of paramount importance because it will restore the Afghan people's faith and sense of ownership in their government. Despite all the fraud and mismanagement in previous elections, it is, remarkably, not yet lost. And if the government obtains this mandate from the people, it can act with confidence on issues from dealing with the Taliban to stabilizing the economy and receiving long-term assistance from the West and the international community that will ensure Afghanistan's security, stability, and prosperity. By playing a constructive role in facilitating necessary electoral reforms and overseeing a credible and legitimate transfer of power in 2014, Karzai can still take advantage of this unique opportunity and moment in Afghan history to be remembered as a reformist.
The structure of Afghanistan's political process, which was discussed in that meeting in 2000, further implemented in the 2001 Bonn agreement, and painfully built over the past decade, is still the right one. But work remains on that central point -- ensuring that every person gets the opportunity to choose his or her government. With a push from the international community, and in particular, the United States, to help Afghanistan conduct free and fair elections, Afghanistan can be saved -- and move into the next decade from a position of strength. Together with our international partners, the Afghan nation has come a long way in our transition toward democracy and stability. We must march on forward.