The murder of Mr. Abdul Qadir, the vice president of Afghanistan, has heightened fears that the country is sliding once again into chaos. No suspects have been caught in the brazen midday attack, but speculation about the cause runs from a tribal vendetta to an attempt to undermine the government. The government must find his killers if the danger of renewed ethnic violence is to be averted. Just as critical is the international community’s commitment to nation-building. Forcing the Taliban from power created a power vacuum — like the one following the Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s. The post-Soviet interlude gave the world the Taliban. That mistake must not be repeated.
Afghanistan faces extraordinary challenges. Average life expectancy is 44 years, 25 percent of children under the age of 5 will die and one mother in 12 dies in childbirth. The literacy rate is 31 percent. According to the World Food Program, 70 percent of the population is malnourished. There are more than 1 million refugees, and more than one-third of the population depends on emergency aid to survive. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the country has more unexploded ordnance than any other country, including some 10 million land mines. Infrastructure is nonexistent. Less than a quarter of the population (23 percent) has safe water, and only half of that (12 percent) has adequate sanitation.
Those problems would overwhelm any country, yet the difficulties are compounded by Afghanistan’s deep divisions. Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group, make up 38 percent of the population; Tajiks comprise 25 percent; Hazara, 19 percent; and Uzbeks, 6 percent. The remainder is made up of smaller groups. There is an equally deep religious divide between Sunni Muslims (84 percent) and Shiite Muslims (15 percent).
Mr. Qadir was a longtime Pashtun leader. He twice served as governor of Nangarhar Province in the eastern part of the country. Although he was a member of the anti-Taliban forces, he kept another goal in mind: minimizing the influence of the Northern Alliance, which was dominated by Tajiks. With the defeat of the Taliban, the glue that bound the coalition together dissolved and old hatreds re-emerged. Mr. Qadir was not the first murder victim; that dubious honor belongs to Dr. Abdul Rehman, the tourism minister who was gunned down at Kabul Airport in February.
Reports that Mr. Qadir’s bodyguards were told not to carry guns on the day of his murder and the questions involving his role in distributing funds for opium-suppression programs suggest that this assassination was the product of traditional Afghan politics, rather than a strike by the Taliban.
Two elements are essential if the slide into warlordism is to be checked: money and security forces. The United Nations has estimated that it will cost $10 billion to $20 billion over the next decade to rebuild Afghanistan. The country needs $777 million through the end of this year alone to provide food and shelter for returning refugees as well as to pay for such things as police and army salaries. The international community has promised the funds, but there have been regular shortfalls between pledges and actual payments.
The money will do no good — and could exacerbate problems — if order is not restored throughout the country. Afghans, and many other governments, want to see the ambit of the 19-member International Security Assistance Force extended beyond the capital. That is unlikely given U.S. opposition to any such move. Its reluctance to get involved in nation-building and the fear of sinking into a military quagmire in the countryside have prompted Washington to lower its sights and focus on training Afghan police and troops.
The policy is shortsighted. After going to war to drive the Taliban from power, the U.S. now seems unwilling to help the new government establish itself. Without a powerful security force that can enforce order and check the warlords, the central authority will collapse, re-creating the conditions that brought the Taliban to power. Anger over U.S. obstinacy is compounded by the deaths of at least 40 civilians as a result of U.S. bombing raids in recent weeks.
The first step is to find Mr. Qadir’s killers. His family and supporters have demanded action; unfortunately, the precedent is not good. There has been no progress in tracking down the killers of Mr. Rehman, murdered on the tarmac in February. The international peacekeepers have agreed to join the investigation into the slaying.
More aggressive efforts at nation-building are also required. The world has paid a high price for its previous willingness to turn its back on Afghanistan. Sadly, that does not seem costly enough to prevent the same mistake from being made again.
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