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Overcoming Afghanistan's history Despite democratic government, religious traditions still rule

Religious intolerance lives in Afghanistan, despite replacement of the hard-line Taliban with a more secular democratic government. Gray areas in its policies and new constitution will not fade, even with the release of Abdul Rahman, who faced death for leaving Islam for another religion.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was right to protest that death-sentence possibility to the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai was caught between Western pressure and the need not to look like a Western puppet. Rahman was caught up in the clash between conservative clerics and emerging democracy. Conversion is not a crime under Afghan law, but the framers of the constitution dodged conflicts by refering religious matters to a religious court. Christianity per se was not on trial, but judges were asked to ponder the charge of a blasphemous rejection of Islam.

Sunday's dismissal of the case for lack of evidence leaves Karzai with a problem: This now has become a highly publicized clash between what many of his people see as justice rightly based on Islam, named as the country's supreme law in its constitution, and Western demands for what Rice described as "the universal principles of freedom." Afghan sovereignty makes this an Afghan problem, and an America insistent that it provides only stabilizing and not occupying forces cannot forcibly intervene.

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