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Rebuilding Starts Slowly in Afghanistan

A sense of stability is slowly returning to Afghanistan. The population is more interested in rebuilding livelihoods than fuelling tribal rivalries. But redevelopment may take years - and cost billions.

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Redevelopment in Afghanistan can only be achieved as a joint-effort

Afghanistan is said to need around $ 45 billion over the next decade to rebuild the war- and poverty-torn. Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, Afghanistan’s interim planning minister, told Reuters the country needed at least $15 billion for immediate reconstruction, and would present its proposals to a pledging conference of more than 50 countries in Tokyo on January 21.

According to the interim government, the reconstruction of the shattered country will cost billions of dollars. "For the next 10 years we estimate that we need $45 billion," Mohaqiq said.

U.S. efforts to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan were underlined onFriday with the announcement that US Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Kabul next week. Powell will hear Afghan leaders' needs for reconstruction and discuss further U.S. assistance.

Struggling for authority

Afghanistan's interim government, grappling to solve deep security problems in a country awash with guns, bandits and tribal rivalries, continued its push to disarm various groups and rid the capital Kabul of weapons on Saturday. On January 9, the interior minister, Yunus Qanuni had ordered all armed irregulars to leave the capital and return to their military bases.

A step not just a test for the new interim government, but for the British-led international security force, too. Since the announcement, international security forces have been patrolling the capital’s streets.

The first German troops to take part in the security force landed in Kabul on Friday. They are part of the multinational 4,500-strong force designed to help restore order in the capital and which is slowly being assembled in the Afghan capital.

Despite a relatively quiet atmosphere on Kabul’s streets, achieving a weapon free zone in more remote regions will prove a difficult, if sheer impossible task. Beyond the capital, the new government’s authority remains shaky. Last week, several leading Taliban members were released without authorisation.

But despite gloomy phrophecies that Afghanistan would turn into a slaughtering ground once the Taliban had lost the hold on their regime, the situation in Afghanistan is proving relatively stable.

Under strong western pressure, the main power-holders in Afghanistan’s ethnically divided north appear to be accepting the authority of their new leader, Hamad Karzai, who belongs to the Pastun group that dominates the south of the country.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, for example, warlord and leader of the Uzbek minority, once announced a separate currency and flag for northern Afghanistan, and even threatened to boycott the new government. However, he changed his mind – apparently after being offered the post as deputy defence minister.

Under the eye of the US watchdog, the various factions appear to be succumbing to the new internationally-sponsored government.

A chance for Afghanistan to break out of the vicious circle of poverty, war and violent internal dispute?

Worst predictions averted

According to the UN’s World Food Programme, the risk of a widespread famine has been averted. There is thought to be enough food to feed the majority of the 6 million people suffering from hunger and thirst. However, the largest problem still remains getting the food to the more remote areas of Afghanistan . There are still areas where severe starvation and malnutrition pervail, especially in parts of the Hindu Kush. In some areas, Afghans are barely surviving on a diet of grass.

And some cities, such as Kandahar,are still too dangerous to work in, aid agencies say. Some areas may have just about enough in the way of food supplies, but are lacking vital medicine and drugs.

Despite further US attacks, the current situation in Afghanistan could mean a start to preparations for the coming spring, when fertile regions such as the Shomali valley east of Kabul – fought over and riddled with mines during the past decades - will hopefully be free of fighting and with the help of organisations such as the UN, be ready for cultivation and new human habitation.