No matter who is ultimately certified as the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the vote was plagued by so much fraud and violence, and had such low turnout, that it is inconceivable the Afghan people will regard the victor as a legitimate leader. And if a majority of Afghans do not consider the president and his government to be legitimate, the military campaign now being waged by the United States and its allies is doomed to fail, regardless of the number of troops deployed.
Current discussions about cobbling together mistrustful factions into a new power-sharing government will produce neither enduring democracy nor short-term peace. The slate must be wiped clean. Afghans need to start again from scratch and choose their leader by a fresh process that restores legitimacy to the national government.
Fortunately, such a process already exists—one that is both highly respected by the Afghan people and recognized in the Afghan Constitution: the convening of an emergency loya jirga, or grand assembly. The loya jirga has been called in times of national crisis in Afghanistan for centuries. In 1747, such an assembly in Kandahar selected Ahmad Shah Durrani as the first king of Afghanistan, uniting a patchwork of contentious tribal entities into the modern Afghan state. The loya jirga, moreover, is not only deeply rooted in Pashtun tradition, but is also consistent with notions of Western representative democracy.
Afghan society remains predominantly illiterate, agra...