THE peace process in Bosnia has three major tracks, none of which lacks twists and hazards. But the process has begun; that in itself stirs hope.
The first and least tortuous track is NATO's core mission: to separate the sides and monitor such steps as the release of prisoners. This crucial part of the process is pretty much on schedule. True, tough problems, such as the exit of foreign Islamic fighters that have helped the Muslim cause, remain. But anticipated outbreaks of violence against NATO personnel haven't happened.
Initially, the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo balked at releasing prisoners until the Serbs accounted for thousands of missing Muslim men. It has become more cooperative in the face of American threats to withhold promised military training.
But what happened to the missing Muslims remains a critical issue. Many of those men are presumed to have perished in mass executions near the former ''safe area'' of Srebrenica. Recent reports in the Monitor and Washington Post have confirmed the existence of additional mass graves in the vicinity of Srebrenica. Serb leaders are charged with ordering those killings, which leads to the second track of the peace process: the activities of the international war-crimes tribunal. If the tribunal's investigators are given protection and the mass graves are examined, guilt can be more clearly established and justice pursued.
Washington makes a point of publicly backing the war-crimes investigations. Witness the well-covered visit of Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck to the grave sites this week. But some fuzziness clings to the role of NATO troops in supporting evidence-gathering. Protection for official tribunal investigators, as requested, should be a matter of course.
The point here is not to assail all Serbs with blame, but to help build cases against those individuals (on whichever side) who bear chief responsibility for specific atrocities. This quest for justice is indispensable to long-term peace in Bosnia. It should mesh with NATO's peace enforcement mission.
Hopes for long-term peace also entail rebuilding Bosnia's shattered social, economic, and political life. That's the third track, and, ideally, it will work in tandem with the military disengagement. Aid in repairing infrastructure and restarting industry must flow, as promised in the Dayton agreement. But it has been slow in coming. Congress, for example, has yet to OK the initial US contribution of $200,000. The overall international commitment is $5 billion, with $600 million from the United States.
Along with financial help, assistance is needed in community-building. Private and nonprofit groups are working with civic and religious leaders in Bosnia to restore social services and reestablish contacts across ethnic lines. New political coalitions need encouragement, to compete with the hard-line nationalist parties that dominate all sides. Elections are scheduled for September, and a huge organizing task has to come first. Countless people have been uprooted. How will residency be established and voters registered?
Can the NATO mandate be expanded, or somehow built upon, to provide individual security for Bosnian citizens of all backgrounds, so they can make political choices without fearing reprisals?
It would be wrong to view Bosnia as an ethnic pit where the blood-letting will automatically resume once outside authority is lifted. People remember they once lived together in harmony. Many want to rebuild that society. The present enforced peace, and the constructive steps it allows, give them an opportunity, at least, to undo some of the damage done by rampant ethnic nationalists.