- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

From the perspective of a Kosovar, who has spent years trying to topple Serb domination over Kosovo and build democracy in it, as well as someone who had to go through war and life under a U.N. protectorate after it, here are some lessons learned from the Balkans that may help in the present international effort in Afghanistan.
1. Afghanistan is not a state. The weaker its state functions became, the bigger a sanctuary it became for international terrorism and drug trade. Today's war only makes evident what was a de facto situation for years: There are no institutions of administration, there are no laws, there is only the power of the gun behind clan or interests of ideology (political Islam). This is something we have seen to an extent in former Yugoslavia, where the destruction of state institutions only showed the bare power of Serb nationalism supported with guns. The effort of the international community, if it wants to claim victory, is not only to de-Talibanize Afghanistan, but also to create a functioning state out of it. Anything short of a functioning state would return the country to anarchy and chaos, effectively creating conditions for another terrorist haven.
2. A functioning state is not possible in Afghanistan as a product of its own society. The years of war since the Soviet occupation till today have created a society that is insufficient in its capacity to build a state on its own. This is nothing new. The people of Bosnia and of Kosovo could not be in their state-building exercise on their own. An international effort, under the U.N. banner or a coalition of the willing with a U.N. blessing, should create both an atmosphere of security and basic administrative capacity within a transitional period. This basically means an effective security control by an international military presence and an international transitional administrative body that will work to build a consensus within the Afghan political and ethnic spectrum.
3. Everything will be more difficult if rule of law is not established immediately. Rule of law in present conditions should mean a robust international military presence and a consensus within the Afghan spectrum supportive of law. The consensus should be built over the mutually recognized applicable law, the one that least hurt the state in its past. And this mutually recognized applicable law is to be considered transitional until a new legal package passes through democratic procedures. Looking back at Bosnia and Kosovo, valuable time was spent in a vacuum of the rule of law creating conditions for the strengthening of undemocratic or criminal behavior, and indeed setting a negative precedent for the new societies.
4. The Afghan state cannot function as a unitary one. Not only is it multiethnic, but the war has created a new reality in which the minority communities have the upper hand militarily. Any political arrangement should leave open the options of territorial and non-territorial federalization. The minority communities should have the right to a degree of self-rule, while at the same time recognizing the central authority. The government in Kabul, on the other hand, needs to have strong competencies in building the new state. In hindsight, these relations proved to be very difficult in the postwar Bosnia and Kosovo, especially hindering efforts in establishing the rule of law.
5. Afghanistan needs barracks for its future army. No political arrangement can be found with guns on the street, but again no political arrangement can be found with barracks for its ethnic armies and militias. The only force capable of orchestrating a process of organization of a future army in Afghanistan is NATO, through demobilization, disarmament and building the basic structures of this future army. Tolerating ethnic armies, and thus institutionalizing them, would bring paralyzing effects to political life, similar to the ones from the Dayton agreement for Bosnia, where three ethnic armies were constitutionally legitimized.
6. Don't be shy on taking over authority. If the international community wants to help Afghanistan be a functioning state, it should immediately take over basic utilities, radio and TV. If the international community does not do it, the different factions of Afghanistan will try to do it, in order to exert political power and in the future create sources of manipulation or corruption.
7. Don't be shy in general in the state-building exercise. The people of Afghanistan will not see you as one more invader in their long and bloody history, but as people who have made up their minds to finally bring peace and freedom to their country. The uniforms of NATO armies have a certain impact, as I can attest. Two-and-half-years ago, as the British paratroopers entered my capital, Pristina, it was the first time in the history of my people that these uniforms were not hostile against the city or its inhabitants.
8. This isn't going to be a quick exercise. Not only because state-building in Afghanistan will require patience, time and money, but also because this exercise is part of a larger framework. The Palestinians and Kashmiris have already emerged as focal points linked to the Afghan war, as is the whole issue of stability in a region surrounding the new source of oil from the Caucasus. Mostly, patience is needed, though, because if democratic state-building is successful in Afghanistan, it ought to remind countries in the Middle East that the time for reform is overdue. This will also challenge the assumptions of the Taliban demagogues and their sympathizers in the Islamic world by demonstrating that the religion of Islam is compatible with democracy.

Veton Surroi is publisher of the influential Kosova daily newspaper, Koha Ditore, and was a member of the Kosovar delegation at the 1998 Rambouillet peace negotiations.

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