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"Security and Cash for Afghanistan Right Away"
Comment by William Shawcross, The International Herald Tribune.


KABUL Security, security, security - personal safety - is what Afghans need above all else. Security and cash. Now.

That was what the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, heard in Kabul a few days ago. From Hamid Karzai, the engaging interim head of state who is now in the United States to plead his country's case; from General John McColl, the British commander of the international security force in Kabul; and from all those passionate Afghans he met.

There is a Kabul spring at the moment. The wrecked sand-colored city throbs with the thrill of liberation from the horrors of civil war and the Taliban regime. The Afghans Mr. Annan met were both grateful to the U.S.-led coalition for their liberation and frank in expressing anxiety that the world may now lose interest. The West walked away after helping Afghans defeat the Soviet occupation in the early 1990s. That negligence contributed mightily to the destructive civil war, the Taliban's victory and their alliance with Al Qaeda. George W. Bush, Tony Blair and other leaders have promised that it will not happen again.

Mr. Annan was in Kabul after attending the UN pledging conference in Tokyo, at which donors promised $4.5 billion over five years. That is a good start, but the problem is that most of it is long-term aid.

Mr. Annan was moved by the destruction of the city but encouraged by the dynamic enthusiasm of the Afghans he met. If liberation is not to dissolve into chaos again, the international community must act much more swiftly and imaginatively than it usually does. Troops now, cash now - that is the message.

At the moment, security is being provided in Kabul by a 17-nation international force led by the British. They are doing a fine job, but Tony Blair is under domestic pressure not to let British troops stay more than the planned three months. He should resist that pressure. The British task of stabilizing the city and training Afghan soldiers is not yet finished.

Such assistance is needed even more in the countryside. Security problems there are far worse as the old rival groups of warriors, some now assisted and armed by the United States, wrestle for power. There is as yet nothing to stop the sort of bloody chaos from which the Taliban emerged.

Mr. Annan and his special representative in Afghanistan, the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, hope that Mr. Karzai can begin to forge a national army out of the warlords' varied tribal armies. Maybe.

For now, security can be provided only by the coalition. Mr. Karzai wants it to extend its military reach outside Kabul. So do many other Afghans, but there is no UN mandate for that. Is there the political will? Last week, in a reversal of policy, Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense, said U.S. troops might now stay "to help them get through what is clearly a difficult period."

The UN Security Council needs urgently to debate an extension of the mandate of the international security force and to instruct Mr. Annan to look for the troops.

Alongside security, cash. If the Karzai administration cannot pay salaries, it cannot survive as a government.

At his press conference with Mr. Annan, Mr. Karzai proudly announced that his interim administration had paid January's wages. That money came from a trust fund set up by the UN Development Program, and there is no cash left there for February's salaries. We are talking peanuts. Civil servants, teachers and others are paid only about $30 a month, and the entire wage bill is only about $10 million a month.

It is fine for the international community to pledge $4.5 billion in Tokyo, but nearly all that is jam tomorrow, and conditional jam at that. Unconditional bread and butter today are even more important.

Mr. Annan and Mr. Brahimi, are begging governments to provide small amounts of cash with which to pay salaries and restore ministries and schools and the police force. Donors often don't like paying salaries - there's nothing to put their sticker on. But that is what they must do now.

Without cash now there will be no point in hundreds of millions in a few years' time.

The defeat of the Taliban by the U.S.-led coalition is a great victory for the people of Afghanistan. That victory can easily be built upon, but it must be done fast. If it is not, victory will be squandered. The writer is author of "Deliver Us From Evil - Warlords, Peacekeepers and a World of Endless Conflict." He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

Copyright © 2001 The International Herald Tribune



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