Restoring internal security is an essential condition for nation-building in Afghanistan, where local warlords continue to defy the authority of the central government. It is welcome news, therefore, that the international community has pledged new aid for an Afghan program to disarm those chieftains and their soldiers, estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, and reintegrate them into Afghan society.

The Tokyo Conference on Consolidation of Peace in Afghanistan, held last week with the participation of more than 30 donor countries and 10 international institutions, pledged an initial contribution of $50 million to that program, known as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. Japan is to provide most of that amount. The U.N. Development Program says it will cost $135 million to complete the process in three years.

Achieving DDR, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in his speech, is an essential step in bringing peace and civility to a country ravaged by two decades of war. That is why the Tokyo meeting on “consolidating peace” is of crucial importance. Donor nations need to stay focused on Afghanistan so that steady flows of aid can be maintained.

The DDR program is also an essential safeguard against terrorism, which remains a potential threat in Afghanistan. If the Iraq crisis leads to war, the focus of world attention will likely shift to postwar nation-building in Iraq. That would likely set back international efforts to help Afghanistan recover and destabilize the situation there. Terrorists on the run could be tempted to strike back.

More than a year has passed since Afghanistan started over as a new nation, following the collapse of the Taliban regime. President Karzai emphasized that recovery projects have made remarkable progress thanks to international cooperation. Donor nations agreed at a Tokyo meeting in January 2002 to provide a total of $4.5 billion.

Indeed, progress is impressive. For example, 3 million children will attend school by the end of this summer, according to President Karzai; in December 2001, when the interim government started, there were no schools. Roads have been repaired, too, and millions of refugees have returned. Democratic reform is in the works. A new constitution will be established this year and a popularly elected government will come into being next year.

Many problems remain, however. In particular, poor security is a serious problem. The Taliban regime, which had harbored al-Qaeda elements, is gone, but its remnants are reportedly still in hiding despite a U.S.-led cleanup campaign. Osama bin Laden is also at large, calling for a new attack on America in what is believed to be his latest video recording. Security is left in the hands of an international force. The political situation is anything but stable.

Local warlords played a part in toppling the Taliban from power. Now they are an obstacle to peace. To restore order and bolster the central government, they must be disarmed at all cost. It is possible, however, that they will refuse to lay down their arms. To complete the disarmament process smoothly, perhaps in a year’s time, international cooperation is needed.

It cannot be forgotten that the international community, particularly the superpowers of the Cold War era, is largely responsible for the present plight of Afghanistan. In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, while America supported the rebel forces. Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the end of the Cold War, however, the United States quickly disengaged from Afghanistan, setting the stage for the rise of al-Qaeda terrorists and Islamic militants.

Afghanistan was the haven for bin Laden and his cohorts, who are believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. With the country now moving toward a functioning democracy, there is every reason for the international community to support its program of national revival. Without such backing, Afghanistan would slip back into chaos, dealing a blow to the global campaign against terror.

Japan played a leading role at the latest meeting, as it did at the previous one. Indeed, the nation has its work cut out. Stressing its commitment to Afghan reconstruction, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi called on other nations to continue to support the “from guns to plows” plan to create a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society.

The Afghan program, designed to build peace in a war-devastated country, represents a new challenge for Japan’s foreign-aid policy. It is a historical exercise in nation-building that will likely set a groundbreaking precedent for the country’s contributions to international stability.

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