afghanistan kids
Under New Leadership
By Charlie Keenan

The Presidential Guard for Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, greets the President as he enters the Kabul Military Training Center in July. Karzai was there for the first-ever graduating class for the Afghanistan National Army. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Bethann Hunt)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has a vision for Afghanistan. He sees a democracy: a place where people vote, a nation without oppression, and a country with a developed economy.

"We have offered all Afghans to be part of the nation-building," Karzai recently told U.S. reporters.

But for Karzai and his new government, the task is daunting. Just keeping the peace is a struggle. It's a delicate balancing act, as ethnic, religious, and ideological disputes threaten Afghanistan's political transition. That has officials and outsiders calling for more help. The war might be over, but the work is just beginning, they say.

"The peace is a lot harder to win than the war," says Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware. "We're not doing nearly enough to secure Afghanistan so that it can be rebuilt and so that it does not again become a haven for terrorists."

The country is still unstable. Hajji Abdul Qadir, a Vice President, was gunned down in July, making it the second assassination of a cabinet member this year. The two assassins got away, highlighting the need for more security for members of the government.

To help, U.S. Special Operations Forces are guarding President Karzai and other officials. A 5,000-person international peacekeeping force may be expanded beyond Kabul, the nation's capital. The U.S. military is working to build an Afghan army of 60,000 soldiers. Only 350 soldiers have been trained so far. With pay set at $30 a month, potential soldiers are opting for better opportunities.

Problems with the military are not the only challenges faced by the new President, who was elected by a panel of delegates to an 18-month term in June.

A major difficulty is bringing together the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Groups include Tajik, Pushtun, Shiite, Hazara, Uzbek, and Nuristani. Karzai is a Pushtun, yet must work with ministers who are from other groups. In a diplomatic success, Karzai managed in June to persuade Muhammad Yunus Qanooni, a Tajik, to stay in the government. Qanooni, regarded as the leader of the Tajiks, threatened to leave because he thought his appointment as education minister was a lowly job.

Some of the major warlords in the provinces have pledged allegiance to the central government. Others are holding on to power. Warlords still run their own private armies, making them a threat to the stability of the country. They pay their soldiers much more than the central government. Some are fighting to control opium and heroin traffic, which is a main source of money for the warlords.

Religious conservatives are also making it tough for the new government. Sima Samar, the minister of women's affairs, is an assassination target of Muslim fundamentalists. They think she is too liberal. Karzai moved her to the human rights commission instead.

While Karzai works to hold together his government, he expects help from the international community for years to come. "Nation-building is not an easy task," he says. "It takes time."