Whither Afghan Aid?

The surest way to keep Afghanistan terror-free is to move as quickly as possible to rebuild the country. And that requires substantial amounts of aid. Afghans themselves can contribute mainly willing minds, whatever skill and experience they have, and muscle power.

Such aid was promised back in January at an international donors' meeting in Tokyo – $4.5 billion over five years. So far, however, little of that has trickled into the war-battered nation.

Much of what has arrived, including millions of dollars in aid from the US, has gone to immediate humanitarian needs like food. Those needs are important, and could expand as winter comes on, particularly since large numbers of Afghans who fled the wars have returned to their villages.

But longer-term needs, such as rebuilding a nearly disintegrated transportation network, sadly languish.

Yet those very tangible improvements are what the interim government of Hamid Karzai yearns for, in order to show its people that progress is being made. To date, not a single major highway-building project has been launched. Roads connecting the country's largest cities have been gouged and crumbled by war; bridges are often in ruins. Commerce and something approaching normalcy await repair of these arteries.

Speeding things up won't be easy. International and national bureaucracies grind slowly. For a country that lacks any real economy, loans from regional or international banks seem problematic. The Kabul government recently backed out of a road-building plan with the World Bank because it saw no way to repay the loans offered by the bank. And many donor countries that have promised aid grants – including, most notably, the US – are in tight budget times.

On top of all that, Afghan cabinet ministers have complained that what aid is arriving goes primarily to international agencies and not the government for dispersal. The government itself, however, is in need of aid to strengthen institutions so it can effectively participate in rebuilding.

US soldiers and other foreign security forces are doing what they can to spread goodwill in Afghanistan – for example, distributing school supplies. And some schools and hospitals have been rebuilt. But a still very shaky Afghan government, beset by threats of ethnic division, needs much more.

The nations allied to erase terrorism from Afghanistan would do well to start stitching the country back together with serviceable roads.

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