Outside observers have hailed Afghanistan?s parliamentary elections on September 18th as an overall success, although voter turnout was lower than expected. Nearly 6,000 candidates ran for Afghanistan?s new 249-member national assembly and for seats in provincial councils. However, due to a complicated balloting process, results will not be announced until late October.

Afghan journalist Nabi Misdaq, who is based in Washington with the BBC, said the fact that parliamentary elections took place represents a major achievement, but many problems lie ahead. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Mr. Misdaq noted with concern that most of the Afghan warlords and ex-mujahadiin leaders, many of whom have committed atrocities, were candidates for election to the lower house of parliament.  

But Afghan reporter Khalid Mafton said he is optimistic about the future of democracy in Afghanistan, although he thinks it is too early to tell whether the parliamentary elections signify major progress or just a small step on a long road. Nonetheless, he said he expects that the new parliament will face many challenges in working together and in overcoming their ethnic differences. 

After last week?s elections, President Hamid Karzai called for U.S. and coalition forces in his country to change their strategy for fighting terrorism and focus less on air strikes against the Taleban, which are ?no longer effective.? BBC journalist Nabi Misdaq agreed, suggesting that the United Nations and other NATO countries expand their presence because many Afghans consider the United States an ?invading army.?  Nonetheless, he said the United States would need to remain involved. Mr. Misdaq also worries that Afghanistan?s neighbors, especially Iran and Pakistan, could destabilize the situation. He said he had written an open letter to President Karzai suggesting that Afghanistan should be declared a ?neutral? country so its neighbors would not be tempted to ?interfere.?

Pakistani journalist and former diplomat Husain Haqqani said that, although the Pakistani government publicly supports the electoral process, it has a ?long-standing policy? of trying to influence the internal affairs of its neighbor. Mr. Haqqani noted that Pakistan had invested heavily in Afghanistan politically by supporting the mujahadiin against the Soviet Union and later the Taleban. Mr. Haqqani added that he does not foresee direct intervention from Pakistan or Iran so long as America maintains a ?strong military presence? in Afghanistan.

During this transition period to democracy after more than two decades of civil war and destruction, Afghan journalist Nabi Misdaq said it is important for President Karzai to rule with a ?firm hand? and not yield to the warlords.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.