Without even asking, Afghans stuck out their thumbs to show off the ink stain that verified they voted. People in this war-scarred society were putting all their hope into this past weekend's national election.
To measure the significance of this first democratic experiment in Afghanistan, one must remember that this is the place where the 9/11 attack on America was hatched less than four years ago. Last week marked the third anniversary of the start of the American bombing campaign to oust the Taliban and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden.
The hunt for Bin Laden continues, yet there's been a remarkable change in this country. The people of Afghanistan are no longer hosts to an army of fanatic jihadists determined to destroy the West.
Instead today they are grappling with the more mundane details of democracy.
Everyone expected bombs and bullets to disrupt Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic presidential election; instead it has been ink pens and politicians trying to undermine the process.
The voting process was flawed. There were reports that some polling stations ran out of ballots after so many people turned out to vote.
To insure a fair vote, election officials ordered that each voter should have his or her thumb marked with indelible ink. The ink in some cases apparently washed off because at some polling stations workers used the same pens to mark the ballot and to also mark voters.
Yet the system went smoothly at most locations, according to international observers and eyewitnesses.
At one school visited in Kabul, there was plenty of ink, no misplaced marker pens, and half a dozen locally hired U.N. workers to observe the process.
Yet election day wasn't even over before opposition candidates seized on what appeared to be minor irregularities to denounce the process. Some threatened to boycott the election.
'Horse trading' days over
It appeared like cheap political drama in an election that was successful considering that the Taliban had threatened the process with suicide bombers, assassinations and bloodshed.
It was flawed. So was Florida, but there was no apparent fraud.
What it looked like was a group of minor political players maneuvering the election for political gain. Those men, who clearly were not going to win the election, were hoping to win some leverage.
The interim president Hamid Karzai was fuming inside his heavily guarded headquarters. He knows the political game here. This is a rough-and-tumble sort of politics shaped by two decades of war where self interest isn't an issue -- it's the objective.
Karzai was in no mood to play the game, declaring, "The horse trading times are over in Afghanistan!"
Ray Kennedy, the vice chairman of the U.N. –Afghan Joint Election Management Body, said he was convinced there was no organized attempt at fraud. "The indication so far is that these [problems] were not part of a plan or scheme to benefit any one particular candidate,” he said.
By Monday, most of the candidates backed off their protest after officials agreed to establish an independent panel to investigate complaints.
Peace and security
Let’s face it, democracy is not pretty.
The Afghans deserved a lot of credit for even attempting to pull it off.
Their triumph was infectious. Foreign election observers came back to one of the cities few functioning hotels to proclaim how proud they felt to be a part of history.
The people of Afghanistan showed each other and the world the value of having a voice in what happens to a nation.
What came through loud and clear was that these people want peace, security and prosperity.