Rebuilding Afghanistan

NEITHER peace nor honor marks the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But this is not a time for gloating over the clear failure of the Red Army and of the Brezhnev doctrine for ``helping'' client communist states. The costs of the nine-year war and the rebuilding job left by that tragedy are far too great. The first priority has to be the Afghan people.

There are five million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Another two million Afghans fled to other parts of the country when their villages were destroyed, and half of those have crowded into Kabul. Many are endangered by the millions of land mines left behind by Soviet troops.

It will be years before irrigation systems can be rebuilt and agricultural production resumed. Meanwhile, thousands of Afghan children are malnourished and the number is growing. ``It is not yet Ethiopia and Sudan,'' a UN relief official was quoted as saying. ``But it is getting there.''

The United States - which has been sending about $150 million a year in aid (plus about four times that amount in military assistance to the mujahideen) - can do more. So can Japan and other affluent countries. Certainly the Soviet Union too has a moral obligation to help with relief and rebuilding efforts, no matter what the eventual political settlement.

And the United Nations itself must take the lead in distributing humanitarian aid, both because coordination is needed and to provide neutrality as other countries and the forces within Afghanistan maneuver to influence the political outcome.

Achieving stability (not to mention anything approaching democracy) will be extremely difficult in what remains very much a tribal country. Resistance commanders and politicians don't trust each other. Neighboring countries (especially Pakistan) are putting the pressure on. And there is a sectarian aspect to all of this with the Shiite Muslim minority demanding more power from the Sunni majority. To be decided first, of course, is the future of what remains of the Soviet-backed regime and its army.

Having failed in his mission to Pakistan to find a means of peaceful transition, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is again calling for an international conference on Afghanistan or a meeting of all parties under UN auspices. That could be helpful, but it still will be up to Afghans themselves to bring peace to their troubled land. Meanwhile, the rest of the world should do all it can to ease the suffering that has gone on far too long.

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