THE TRIBAL leader Hamid Karzai starts as provisional prime minister of Afghanistan tomorrow with the good will of most Afghans and best wishes of most of the world.
That may not be enough. Warlordism and insurgency, possibly combined with an attempt by the Taliban to re-emerge, imperil the provisional government.
Mr. Karzai, though, brings to the post considerable personal skill. The Pashtun prime minister, known for his loyalty to the former king, also will have a multiethnic Cabinet with the major power portfolio in the hands of ethnic Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.
Meanwhile, some 40 nations and international agencies meeting in Brussels yesterday and today are designing an aid package in the billions for reconstruction, infrastructure, irrigation, demining and other investment needs of a country battered by more than two decades of war.
One sign of the difficulties ahead is the tension with warlords greeting the British-commanded, United Nations-authorized peace-keeping force that will occupy the capital. It is smaller than planned, and if one is to believe interim Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, limited in duties.
The real issue is whether the first interim regime under Mr. Karzai, of which Mr. Fahim is a member, is freestanding or hostage to the regional forces.
There clearly is a desire to have a nation and not break up into ethnic warlordships. But consolidating the warlords into a national defense structure will not be accomplished in the brief tenure of this first regime.
The transitional regime is likely to claim an Islamic character, somewhere between the poles of the extremist Taliban and the secular Communists of the 1980s. That should not stop women from playing a full role in the civil society and in the economy.
Afghanistan cannot afford their isolation. Two women in this first Cabinet may not be enough but is symbolic. Women's skills are needed in medicine, civil engineering, government administration and private business. Whether they are veiled outside is less important than their freedom of movement, access to health care and contribution to the economy.
The sole purpose of this government is to create the climate for a national assembly to create an interim regime to last a couple of more years until elections.
So far, Mr. Karzai and his colleagues have been impressive in their preparations.