Afghanistan: Rebuilding a 'failed' state
(CNN) -- After more than two decades of constant warfare Afghanistan is a nation in ruins.
Pictures of towns and cities reduced to rubble have become a familiar image of the Central Asian nation.
What is more difficult to capture in a photograph, however, is Afghanistan's shattered social and political structure, torn apart by years of bitter conflict.
It was this "failed state," say Western leaders, that allowed Afghanistan to become a home to terrorists -- in turn paving the way for the events of September 11.
To ensure that it doesn't "fail" once again, the challenge has been set to build a new government -- to rebuild a nation -- and to set Afghanistan on track towards a democratic and more stable future.
The challenge is enormous.
Most of Afghanistan's educated population fled the country years ago.
The country has no police force to speak of; meager communications; its power and transportation infrastructure is shattered.
Adding to the instability are continuing threats from rival warlords, many of whom felt they lost out in the power sharing deal that produced the current government and aren't easily going to give up control of their lucrative fiefdoms.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime last year hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into Afghanistan -- into what seems like an almost bottomless pit.
The United Nations and dozens of NGOs have returned to Afghanistan in abundance, but the millions they have spent so far have barely covered the immediate survival needs of the poorest Afghans, let alone contributing towards any rebuilding work.
On top of that the task of nation-building is complicated further by the bitter divisions that years of war have left on the country.
The man tasked with overcoming these enormous hurdles is Hamid Karzai, nominated as Afghan president in June this year.
With a mandate of just two years he is expected to lead Afghanistan to its first-ever democratic elections -- scheduled to take place in 2004.
Karzai -- whose dapper, well dressed image has carved out a high profile on the international stage -- has won pledges of material and political support and promises of billions of dollars in aid from the world community.
But while he may have many international friends it is at home in Afghanistan that he must prove his mettle.
Domestic critics have accused him of being an American stooge -- perhaps the most damaging of slights in a country with such a history of opposition to outside interference in its affairs.
It is an impression that has only been reinforced by his decision to remove his Afghan bodyguards in favor of a team of U.S. Special Forces commandos.
The move has raised concerns among many Afghans that a leader who relies on foreign security forces for his protection does not have what it takes to pull Afghanistan together.
In June, when Karzai's position was sealed by the convening of the national Loya Jirga, or grand council, he seemed to have the broadest support base of any Afghan leader.
Over several days of debates, speeches and deliberations over endless cups of sweet tea, the shape of the quasi-democratic government was hammered out.
Inevitably key figures from the Northern Alliance, the U.S.-backed force that removed the Taliban from power, won the dominant positions in the new administration.
However, the formation of the new government did not end the in-fighting and certainly did not make the new government any more secure.
Since June, two ministers have been shot dead and several others have received death threats.
Karzai himself has been the focus of at least two assassination attempts, the most recent in the city of Kandahar just days ahead of the first anniversary of 9/11.
That attack, coinciding with a deadly bomb explosion in Kabul on the same day, starkly illustrated the fragile hold the Afghan president has on his country.
Officials were quick to point the finger at Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, as well as former mujahideen leader Gulbaddin Hekmatyar -- a frank admission of the broad range of threats the Karzai government faces.
Whoever pulls the strings though, little can be done in the way of rebuilding Afghanistan without one thing -- money.
In January a meeting of donor nations in Tokyo agreed to provide an unprecedented $4.5 billion to Afghanistan over the next five years.
As part of that deal a special trust fund administered by the World Bank was set up to help the government cover its annual budget, projected at around $460 million.
All grand promises which, ministers in the new government say, have yet to be delivered on.
With every passing day the need is ever more urgent and the warnings ever more stark.
By failing to deliver on promised funds, Afghan officials warn, the international community is in danger of letting Afghanistan slide once again into the kind of chaos that allowed it to become a base for Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cohorts.
Another failed state in Afghanistan could be an option the rest of the world can ill afford.
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