... but much has been won

January 20, 2002|By Karl F. Inderfurth

WASHINGTON - When Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Japan tomorrow for the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, he will have the opportunity to tell an important story to representatives of the 50 nations attending the session. Americans at home should also listen.

For several weeks, the U.S. military has had Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network in Afghanistan on the run, as well as the remnants of the Taliban leadership.

Now it also appears that the threat of large-scale starvation in that beleaguered country is also on the run, thanks to the efforts of the international community.

According to Catherine Bertini, head of the United Nations' World Food Program, "There will be no famine in Afghanistan this winter."

Ms. Bertini said the WFP moved 90,000 tons of wheat into the country last month, reportedly the largest monthly delivery in the history of the agency. The United States provided half those supplies.

America did not go to war in Afghanistan to avert widespread famine or to liberate the Afghan people from the oppressive rule of the Taliban. But U.S. military involvement in that country is having those very positive benefits.

Perhaps benefiting most of all from the U.S. intervention are the children of Afghanistan. During the past 22 years of Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban control, they have not known a single day free of conflict or hardship.

Before Sept. 11, nearly 2 million children were at risk of dying because they lacked food and medicine. That danger has now subsided.

Several international organizations are joining together to vaccinate more than 9 million Afghan children. Preventable diseases kill one in four Afghan children before the age of 5.

The children of Afghanistan, especially girls who were barred from receiving an education during the five years of Taliban rule, are returning to school. Recently, a large crowd of young women hoping to enroll for a university education gathered at the gates of Balkh University in Mazar-e Sharif. This year, the university plans to admit 400 women.

Of course, Afghan children still face considerable dangers, including the millions of landmines that are scattered around the country.

Today, with tens of thousands of displaced Afghans on the move, the number of reported landmine casualties has jumped to 15 a day. That would be more than 400 victims a month, nearly all civilians, often children.

For many years, the international community, led by the United Nations, has been hard at work in Afghanistan helping that country deal with its landmine crisis. The United States has been a major contributor to this effort.

With Afghanistan soon at peace for the first time in more than two decades, much more can be done - to clear minefields and provide rehabilitative and other assistance to landmine survivors, including the children whose lives will forever be changed.

The new interim leader of the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, will go to Washington to meet with President Bush Jan. 28. Mr. Karzai has described U.S. military forces in Afghanistan as "liberators." His spokesman says he wants to say thank you to the American people, the administration and Congress for their support.

In the more than four months since Sept. 11, Afghans have come a long way toward reclaiming their lives, their religion and their country.

Sustained American and international commitment and assistance will be important to allow them to complete that task in the years ahead.

Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, was assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001.

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