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After the Taliban

``Failed state'' is a term applied frequently to Afghanistan and is often deemed the cause for why terrorists gained such influence there. But a country does not fail of its own volition, nor is it weakened by unknown causes. A country fails, when it fails, for definite, identifiable reasons. These must be addressed if Afghanistan is to be revived.

Twenty years of invasion, civil war, and drought have left Afghanistan's institutions in ruin. Millions of Afghans huddle in refugee camps or are displaced from their homes. Land-mines defile the countryside. Millions are sick and poor; many live at starvation levels. For these and many other reasons, rebuilding Afghanistan's economy will require not only economic reconstruction but an effort to reinvent the country's political and cultural institutions. Such a massive effort will be doomed to failure, however, if Afghanistan's neighbors intervene in ways that promote economic upheaval all over again.

Afghanistan is no place for quick fixes. Rebuilding the country cannot be done cheaply. Any thought that the anti-terror coalition will be able to bail out fast (as the West did when it abandoned Afghanistan to its fate after the Soviet withdrawal ten years ago) should be forgotten. The West must stick with Afghanistan until its reconstruction is established. Otherwise, it runs the risk of renewed chaos and violence, but this time in a more destabilized region, as Pakistan's current problems demonstrate.

Three problems are of immediate concern, the most important being feeding the Afghan people - both within the country and in refugee camps outside Afghanistan. Humanitarian aid is being delivered, but a distribution system safe from the predations of Afghanistan's warlords needs to be built. Indeed, the warlords have been given too big a say in distributing aid already, and it may be hard to strip them of this power. But stripped they must be.