With the war winding down, Afghanistan faces the daunting task of relief and reconstruction. Other nations stand ready to help, but the destruction is massive and reviving warlords may be an obstacle to progress.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," says Nashaq Nadiri, professor of economics at New York University. He plans to return to Afghanistan to help rebuild it, and he expects to be joined by many others.
Afghans abroad have money, know-how and connections that can benefit their homeland and restore it. "There are a lot of talented Afghans all over the world," Mr. Nadiri says. "They are desirous to go home. They are desirous to participate. They can do many things outside the sphere of the government. They can develop a flourishing private sector of the economy. In fact, the cooperation between the private sector and the government sector will largely depend on the talent, activity and participation of the expatriates."
There is plenty of work to do. After years of war and misrule, Afghanistan lacks just about everything except the spirit of its people who even under the Taleban set up shop amid the ruins of their capital, buying and selling and repairing in a lively if impoverished street scene. Now kites and songs are in the air once again with no vice and virtue police to stop them.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, others are starving, or soon will be, if food does not reach them. Relief efforts are hampered by the continued fighting and an outbreak of banditry with the collapse of government. Underfoot lurk the world's largest supply of landmines that have taken so many limbs and lives.
"A human catastrophe awaits this winter if help doesn't arrive on time," says Michael O'Hanlon, senior analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Once they are rescued and refugees are resettled, rebuilding can begin. The donors are on hand," he says, "and ready to contribute." He estimates Afghanistan will need from $1.5-$5 billion a year over a 10 year period.
But the money will be wasted if not properly used. The newly installed interim government in Kabul is fragile, if promising. An international force of some size is needed to insure relief gets to the people who need it. Standing in the way may be the local warlord, now reasserting his power with the breakdown in central authority.
Mr. O'Hanlon says the Bush administration is still debating the size of the U.S. commitment. "The more troops and aid it supplies, the more leverage it will have to keep the peace. It does not take too many bad apples with a lot of power and a lot of guns to destroy a peace. So it is very important to keep our eyes on the potential spoilers because in most countries where civil war has raged for a long time, the majority of the population always wants peace and is usually not able by itself to insure that peace," says Mr. O'Hanlon.
He adds that even a substantial international force would have trouble with a determined spoiler. But there are other ways of bringing pressure on a commander of ruthless reputation, like General Rashid Dostum, who has been named deputy minister of defense in the interim government. "The proper way to challenge him if he goes too far is not to attack him militarily," Mr. O'Hanlon says, "but to reduce economic assistance to that part of the country and make it clear to him that the rest of Afghanistan is going to go along without him if indeed he chooses to enforce his own will in that particular part of the country."
The support of outside powers is crucial, says Professor Nadiri. In the past, they have kept Afghanistan in turmoil by supporting one faction or another. Now they must act together for the common good. "If the warlords are not helped from outside and their sources of revenue decline, they may see that their interest lies basically in cooperating with the central government and not to go on their own way because the rest of the world may not tolerate their activity," says Professor Nadiri.
With peace, says Professor Nadiri, Afghanistan can make rapid progress. It has large reserves of copper and iron ore along with oil, gas and precious metals. These in time could make it self-supporting and a regional and even global competitor - beyond the warlords' wildest dreams.