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First job for Afghan MPs: Find office

With barest essentials, new ministers face major logistical challenges in efforts at nation building.

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They begin with start-up kits to nation building: The United Nations is giving each of Afghanistan's 30 new government ministers a desk and a chair, some paper clips and other office supplies, and a car to use on official business.

But even the minister for reconstruction - ostensibly one of the new government's most important jobs - doesn't yet have an office in which to set up shop. Amin Farhouny spent the day Monday driving around town to survey what has survived of Kabul's government buildings, browsing for office space in a city that, after more than two decades of war, looks something like a bleak wasteland painted by Salvador Dali.

In Afghanistan, even the most raw materials of governance are far from given. The night before the inauguration of Hamid Karzai, who was sworn in over the weekend as the head of this tattered nation's six-month interim government, the young adviser

charged with translating his speech to English had to be let in by flashlight to the one office in the entire government that was known to have a working printer.

"There is an incredible lack of resources," says Daoub Yaqub, a lawyer and the executive director of the Washington-based Afghanistan-American Foundation. Mr. Yaqub, an eloquent, 30-something Afghan-American who fled this country's war at the age of 11, was just named a spokesman for Karzai.

"This is a totally disrupted society," he says, stirring sugar into his green tea with the end of a fork, while new ministers twice his age came to congratulate him. "We should be very realistic about the expectations we have of this administration."

Karzai - a Pashtun tribal leader with a pro-Western tilt and fluid English - is taking hold of his country's fractured reins this week in an attempt to bring stability and authority to a nation whose name has become synonymous with war and extremism.


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