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Give Afghan aid with care

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At the end of World War II, the victors launched an impressive aid campaign that succeeded in rebuilding much of war-torn Europe. Rebuilding Afghanistan, however, will be far more challenging. Europe after the war still had a tradition of peaceful and stable government. Afghanistan, war-torn for decades, does not.

The United States has pledged $297 million to help Afghanistan. The rest of the world has pledged various amounts that, all together, total $4.5 billion over the next several years. The effort is absolutely necessary. Instability, anarchy and extreme poverty led Afghanistan to breed the terrorists who caused the current crisis. Further instability could lead to similar things, or worse. But the nations donating this money, through the United Nations, need to make certain the money is doing some good.

Twice within three days last week thieves broke into a warehouse and stole humanitarian supplies in Afghanistan. Warlords, anxious to protect their own turf and emboldened by a tradition of tribalism that has thrived amid corruption, will surely want to get their hands on foreign money. They would be much more likely to buy guns and ammunition than schools supplies and wheat.

In addition, other Middle Eastern nations have been positioning themselves to gain an advantage. Iran, Uzbekistan and Pakistan could be expected to launch projects in parts of Afghanistan where they have traditionally enjoyed support. Such contributions, given with ulterior motives, could easily lead to a rebirth of devastating civil war.

Instead, Afghanistan's fledgling government needs support in re-establishing the rule of law and developing a tradition of republican government. The nation has no economy to speak of and it is completely bankrupt. It needs basic supplies, schools, housing, food, irrigation systems and utilities. It needs a police force that can be trusted to enforce laws fairly.

Only the U.N. can successfully monitor and urge this process along, but it must do so with a careful, thorough and completely open scrutiny of how money is spent and how public agencies are functioning. The process must be meticulously organized so that the money doesn't come faster than it can be spent wisely.

Done correctly, the aid could help Afghanistan flower into a model of representative government. Done poorly, the United States and other peace-loving nations may find themselves having to revisit the mess time and time again.