Elections offer the chance for change. Afghans hope presidential polls today will put in place a leader able to defeat the rising violence, corruption and ineffectual government preventing their country from moving forward. For all their aspirations, though, they have to accept a harsh reality. No matter who they choose to lead the nation, there is no simple, quick fix; the vote is merely the beginning of what will be a long, complicated and challenging process. President Hamid Karzai, his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, and the 39 other candidates represent the spectrum of views as to the way forward. Deals have been struck with warlords and ethnic leaders to forge alliances to gain perceived advantage. The vote is being held under democratic principles, but it is not democracy as the Western governments whose troops are fighting the Taliban insurgency and funding the country's development know it. Voter intimidation has been rife, opposition supporters have been arrested, communities will cast ballots in block votes and all amid Taliban gains and stepped-up attacks. Whoever wins inherits a calamitous situation. No government that has controlled Kabul has had reach across the whole of Afghanistan. If the Taliban and warlords are to be tamed, negotiations are necessary. Western governments are needed to help end fighting, train more troops and police and fund infrastructure. Foreign troops have to stay engaged and their numbers increased. The US and its allies promised peace and stability when they invaded and overthrew the Taliban almost eight years ago; they must keep their pledge. US President Barack Obama has shown the lead by committing more soldiers. He is rightly under no illusion as to what this means - he told war veterans on Tuesday that involvement in Afghanistan was a matter of necessity, not choice. Kabul, not the US, determines this. But it is clear that Afghan forces are not yet able to provide adequate security. It will be some time before they can. Voters must not set their hopes too high. They should not expect too much of whomever they elect.