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Outside Help Seen as Crucial for Rebuilding Afghanistan

Afghanistan can successfully rebuild, said participants at a recent meeting of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Its people are ready to work together, despite past divisions, but outside help is crucial, especially from the United States.

When everything else has failed, I am called in, says James Dobbins, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. But he denies Afghanistan is a failed state. It has many ingredients for success.

Chief of these, says Mr. Dobbins, is its people. They are quarrelsome, but they are not haters, as can be found in the Balkans. "The Afghans do not seem to bring the same passion to their disputes," he said. "There is no significant group that wants to live in a separate state, that wants to live in a neighboring state, that wants to divide Afghanistan or exclude the other ethnicities and national groups from Afghanistan. They do argue about power sharing, but they do not argue about whether to share power. They argue about how much of it each of them should have."

At the Bonn meeting where the interim government was established, Mr. Dobbins says Afghans were cordial toward one another, even affectionate. They generally agreed on the need for a broad-based government that includes all groups.

But much depends on outside powers, says Barnett Rubin, a specialist on Afghanistan at New York University. Neighboring countries need to pull Afghanistan together rather than push it apart. That means not favoring individual warlords over the central government. Outside aid is a key to bringing unity to Afghanistan, says Mr. Rubin. Donors must work together rather than pursuing their own individual projects at the expense of a coherent program. "So future factionalism or tribalism or clientelism in Afghanistan will not just be the resurgence of the old divisions in Afghan society, as I am sure people will say, but will be a reaction to the fragmented, tribalistic and clientelistic behavior of the aid community," he said.

Mr. Rubin says a strong U.S. presence is crucial for rebuilding Afghanistan.

You can count on that, declares U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, who recently visited Afghanistan and neighboring countries. "The United States is committed for the long term in Afghanistan," he said. "We are not dealing with just a nation-to-nation relationship in Afghanistan. To rebuild Afghanistan and help develop support and sustain a representative, functioning government in Afghanistan, it is going to require all of the countries in the region to be part of that."

But reports indicate a firm U.S. presence is not yet on hand. Security has broken down in many parts of the country. In Kandahar, which is under the control of a warlord with his private army, some people yearn for the safety of Taleban rule.

The Wall Street Journal says there is still a danger of winning the war but losing the peace. "When the American bombing began in October," writes the newspaper, "Afghans were told, and believed, that this was only the beginning of an effort to rebuild their country. Now that the fighting has stopped, the silence is deafening."