A Pressing Agenda in Afghanistan

Nearly two years after the U.S. toppled the fundamentalist Taliban regime, Afghanistan is entering a critical period in its development. National elections are supposed to be held by June, 2004 -- according to a schedule that was worked out between the Afghans, the U.S., and the U.N. after the war ended. That deadline is concentrating the minds of Afghans and international officials alike. They are scrambling to work together to write a constitution, prepare a census, register voters -- and speed up a range of humanitarian and reconstruction projects, from building a much-publicized road from Kabul to Kandahar to revamping the banking system.

To its credit, the Bush Administration has recently announced that it will double its reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, to $1.8 billion a year. This sum will come on top of the $11 billion annually that the U.S. is already spending on its military effort to hunt down remaining Taliban forces, al Qaeda, and the still-at-large Osama bin Laden. But much more must be done. Afghans still live in dire conditions. Even more worrisome, parts of the country -- in particular the southwest region, near the border with Pakistan -- -are facing attacks from resurgent Taliban forces. And provincial warlords, with their private armies, still control much of the rest of the countryside.

What is needed now is a major new international commitment to ensure that security is improved throughout Afghanistan and that humanitarian and reform projects stay on track. In late September, a new donors conference will be held in Dubai, under the auspices of the U.N., to raise money for Afghanistan's reconstruction projects. Japan and European nations, as well as the U.S. and other donors should step forward to make new pledges.

Every effort should be made to move back on track a pilot project set up by the U.N. project to disarm warlords and their armies, which has been delayed for several months. And serious consideration should be given to expanding the responsibility of the U.N.-mandated international peacekeeping force, now under the command of NATO, beyond Kabul.

The Administration and the international community are distracted by the need to fight the war on terrorism on a wide range of fronts -- most pressing of all, Iraq. But failure in Afghanistan cannot be an option for the U.S., or the international community.

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