After war is over, Afghans need order

Karzai's challenge: Creation of an authentic national police force is antidote to warlords and banditry.

January 12, 2002

WARLORDS are back in Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad. Armed thugs roam Kabul, robbing innocent folk. Highwaymen menace life on the road. Aid agencies cannot protect their vehicles or food from thieves.

This return toward the conditions of 1992-96 in Afghanistan is not a surprise. Nor is it a refutation of the logic of U.S. intervention. It is what was expected, what would happen if nothing were done.

The provisional prime minister, Hamid Karzai, has begun to do something, ordering armed men who are not uniformed police off the streets of Kabul.

The return of militiamen to their home regions, called for by Interior Minister Younus Qanooni, accompanies that.

U.S. forces and international peacekeepers should encourage - if that is the tactful word - enforcement of edicts aimed at creating national law and order.

Their absence is the new Afghanistan's most pressing problem, which must be ameliorated before malnutrition can be corrected or education jump-started.

Old warlords will expect to resume as robber barons if no one deters them. Starving armed men will rob and sometimes kill people. These are not reasons to quit and cry failure.

Mr. Karzai hinted that peacekeepers might be welcome in provincial cities as well as Kabul, and he should press for that.

He has called for the creation of a national army, to make warlords subordinate to national authority. Most Afghans welcome international peacekeepers, at least for a while, as less menacing than Afghan bandits.

Creating national unity and sovereignty is a longer-term project than Mr. Karzai's license to govern for six months. It will continue during the interim government that is slated to succeed him for two more years.

The new regime will be tested by an attempt of the Taliban to lie dormant and re-emerge. The looting of banks' hard currency by Mullah Omar and his minions makes that a credible threat.

Creation of a national army and a national, armed, uniformed, trained, loyal and disciplined police force should be a priority in foreign aid to Afghanistan.

When people come to see police as their protectors and not their predators, the reconstruction of the country will have begun.

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