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What Now?

What Now?Rebuilding Afghanistan after the war will not be easy, say several Tufts experts, but the international community must rise to the occasion.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.10.02] After 22 years of fighting, civil wars and destruction, the damage has been done.

Now, as the U.S. prepares to scale back its recent military operations in Afghanistan, the war-torn country is again faced with the difficult job of rebuilding its destroyed infrastructure, feeding millions of starving people and resolving tensions between local warlords. But the end of the war shouldn't signal an end to U.S. involvement in the country, say Tufts experts on the region, just the start of a new phase.

"One thing is clear," Rhoda Margesson -- a congressional foreign policy analyst and student at Tufts' Fletcher School -- wrote in an opinion piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "The degree to which efforts by the international community -- the United States, its allies and the United Nations -- are successful will be the key to Afghanistan's future peace and stability."

Among the most pressing issues: starvation.

"Out of a population of 22.7 million, 6 million Afghans are currently at risk for starvation," she wrote. "The infrastructure has largely been destroyed with little agriculture possible as a result of the war and drought."

Tufts' Andrew Hess -- a diplomacy professor at Tufts and a nationally renowned expert on the region -- said the international community must play a key role in fixing this problem, by helping Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure.

"Some careful planning has to go into how the regime recovers from the past 20 years of internal warfare," Hess told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Much of it involves teaching people how to engage in small-scale farming and rural business activity, repairing trucks, that kind of thing. It isn't something that will produce quick results. It will take a lot longer than the first phase of the war."

And Margesson says some of that time should be spent developing new strategies to make Afghanistan's infrastructure more sound for the long term.

"Almost every basic humanitarian need has an environmental component that will continue to be important for the foreseeable future," she wrote in the Union-Tribune. "This means that the approach taken now must consider the long view."

That means many of the old systems will need to be replaced, not rebuilt.

"Instead of rebuilding conventional, dirty diesel and oil power plants, the restoration of electric power could involve both the construction of distributed, clean micro turbines to provide electricity and heat and the development of wind and solar energy," the Fletcher student wrote.

This isn't the time to settle for quick improvements over lasting ones.

"Rather than take a standard approach to reconstruction," Margesson wrote, "the international community should consider the ashes of Afghanistan an opportunity to work with the Afghan people to create something much better than they had before, something that will withstand time and take less from the environment."

But none of these efforts will be successful without strong leadership from Hamid Karzai -- the country's interim leader.

"Karzai will have to start from scratch," Hassan Abbas, a student at Tufts' Fletcher School, wrote in a Boston Herald opinion piece. "The interim government has been charged with setting up a central bank, a proper judicial system, a civil service and a human rights commission. This is real institutional building in essence."

Hess agrees, but warned that Karzai will face some difficult tasks.

"Unless Karzai can end the banditry and impose control, refugees will be too scared to return home, opium growing will again surface, and warlords might begin the vicious cycle of civil wars," Hess told the Associated Press.

Even with international attention on Afghanistan's recovery, the country has already fallen back into its old ways in several places, he said.

"In some ways, in terms of the warlords, we're back to where we were before Sept. 11, really kind of quickly," Hess said in a recent AP report.

But Afghanistan's new leadership still has an opportunity to bring change to the war-torn country, Abbas wrote in the Herald.

"It's a tall order, but definitely achievable, provided that the international community, especially the United States, stands by its commitment and moral responsibility to reconstruct Afghanistan," Abbas wrote.

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