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First job for Afghan MPs: Find office

With barest essentials, new ministers face major logistical challenges in efforts at nation building.

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Karzai will find himself torn between keeping all groups involved in the decisionmaking process and doling out jobs based on patronage and ethnic identity, a recipe for incompetence and corruption that stymies progress throughout the developing world. In a sign that he is going to create an inclusive government, though, Karzai late Monday appointed Rashid Dostum - an outspoken critic of the new government - as deputy defense minister.

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Though few expect miracles in six months, there are immediate challenges facing Karzai that cannot be postponed. Observers say he must swiftly consolidate the country's various armed forces. Even getting Afghans to recognize one police force as representative of the nation will be a hurdle. That task will be aided by the presence of to-be-deployed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), spearheaded by the arrival this weekend of 60 British Royal Marine Commandos.

Equally important, Karzai will have to make finding and confiscating old weapons caches a priority. And, he will need to build confidence with various groups that feel shortchanged by the interim deal, such as those who remain loyal to Mr. Rabbani.

Though most here say they are keen to see foreign peacekeepers, it is hard to judge how long their welcome mat might last. Skeptics are concerned that they will open the door for heavy-handed foreign intervention. Mr. Moslih says he worries that where the world once paid too little attention to Afghanistan's problems, now it may try to micromanage them.

"Afghanistan in the past was a victim of the deliberate politics of indifference," Moslih says. "Afghanistan in the future will be a victim of the politics of interference."

But Yaqub argues that the world in general, and the US in particular, must not abandon Afghanistan for a second time, as it did after the Soviet Union withdrew its defeated troops in the late 1980s.

"The US needs to be involved beyond the Taliban," he says, and Afghanistan will desperately need the help of the international community, offering what he says is a conservative restoration bill. Estimate: between $10-$15 billion over the next few years.

Managing how those funds will come in may be Karzai's greatest challenge of all. About $600,000 of aid has arrived so far in what the UN special envoy to Afghanistan estimates will be an aid package in the "several billion dollar range."

On the one hand, Afghanistan has virtually no infrastructure to process and oversee large quantities of money, and its people lack expertise in how to distribute it responsibly. Letting foreign aid agencies do all the work, however, will be like giving out food instead of teaching people to fish.

One solution will be an independent board of experts - in part made up of successful members of the Afghan diaspora - who can focus on accountability rather than tribal loyalties.

"The worst thing that can happen is that a huge influx of money is coming in, and there's no infrastructure to manage it," says Yaqub.