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New Freedom in Afghanistan

In the autumn of 2001, Sayd Mustafa gathered up his wife and seven children. Together they fled their home in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Like many others, Mustafa was afraid that war would once again come to their country. The United States believed that Afghanistan's government was protecting terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

A week later, Mustafa paid a smuggler to guide them through the dangerous Afghan countryside to Pakistan. They walked over narrow, winding paths above deep gorges. Finally, Mustafa and his family arrived in Pakistan and moved in with relatives in the city of Peshawar.

Millions of People Left the Country

Mustafa and his family were among millions of refugees who have fled Afghanistan since 1978. Since that year, when the Soviet Union invaded the country, more than a fifth of the nation's population has been forced to leave their homes. This is as many as six million people.

Some people left Afghanistan because of a civil war. Drought has forced others to leave. Most have gone to neighboring Pakistan. Others have moved to nearby countries like Iran. Yet Afghanistan's refugees have kept their eyes on their homeland. They have looked for a return of peace and independence to allow them to return.

Coming Home

Refugees still cross Afghanistan's borders, but in recent years they have moved in a new direction. As many as three million former refugees have returned to Afghanistan, because of a new freedom in their country.

Many went back home to take part in a historic election. They wanted to use their freedom to vote for their country's leader. Hamid Karzai was appointed as Afghanistan's president after the war in 2001. In the nation's first election, he ran for that position. He had 16 opponents. They included Masooda Jalal, the only woman who was running.

The nation was tense as the election approached. Some people tried to disrupt the voting through violence, but did not succeed. Returning refugees flooded into cities like Kabul that are struggling to provide food and housing to them.

Nevertheless, the election marks a turning point for Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai won the election, and the Afghan people now have experience with democratic processes. It is the hope of many American leaders that Afghanistan will continue on the path of democracy.