This time the world will help

Outside editorial

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

The following editorial appeared in today's San Jose Mercury News:

The world will not walk away from Afghanistan this time. Secretary of State Colin Powell opened the weekend Tokyo Conference on the ravaged country's future with a $296 million pledge from the United States toward immediate reconstruction costs. Other nations, from Japan to Iran, chimed in with hundreds of millions more.

By now, pledges from around the world are more than $4.5 billion - well short of the $15 billion or more the United Nations estimates will be needed over the next decade, but enough to get started. If the new Afghan government holds, and if the money is spent effectively, surely more will follow.

These are big "ifs," of course. Even now, military leaders in Kandahar are contemplating tribal warfare that could unravel the fragile ruling coalition. Corruption has been a way of life for Afghan leaders, some of whom surely will expect a cut of the aid.

Even if those barriers are overcome, the rebuilding plan faces enormous obstacles. The goal is not just restoring what was destroyed by U.S. bombing, or even by the decades of civil war leading up to it. In some cases it's building what never existed in the first place, such as paved roads and safe water systems through much of the country.

In other cases, it's worse than starting from zero, Afghanistan's new education minister told the New York Times. He must first undo the harm done by the Taliban.

Fortunately, participants in Tokyo seemed committed not just to physical rebuilding but to stimulating social change, particularly ending the culture of violence against women. This will be critical to maintaining world support for the rebuilding effort. Money won't keep flowing into a country that oppresses more than half its population.

History teaches the wisdom of extending a hand to the vanquished, rather than leaving despair and hatred to fester. Despite the enormous challenges of rebuilding Afghanistan, this is an effort worth making. The Tokyo conference gets it off to a good start. Once again, the Bush administration has deftly built a broad coalition behind its goals in the war on terror.

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