Any country that endures a long war has plenty to answer for. The scarred lanes and impromptu roadside graveyards in Kabul, like those across Afghanistan, tell two decades of stories about violence, deprivation, heroism and forbearance. Some of these tales will be included in a highly charged independent commission report on ethnic killings that Afghan leader Hamid Karzai will release soon. Others will emerge from a commission on truth that he is committed to establishing. But in the recounting of human-rights abuses, Afghanistan's past can derail its future. Afghans are starting down a long road toward political stability, but without a system to deliver simple justice, they may be unable to resolve problems that make political reconciliation possible.
Whose court, which laws, whose statutes, which constitution? Like many countries in political transition, Afghanistan does not yet have a fully functioning justice system. The December Bonn agreement that empowers Karzai and lays out a route to a future government revived the 1964 constitution, but it doesn't specify what will replace the outdated monarchy or how the fragmented Cabinet will get along. Three months into his six-month term, Karzai can sign treaties, entice international donors and choose judges, yet even with billions of dollars in aid pledges, he can't establish the conditions that will make justice accessible to all Afghans.
This is the chance that the Bonn agreement, imperfect though its solutions are, offer Afghanistan. Karzai will soon have to decide how to deal with prisoners of war, respond to U.S. courts hearing cases against the Taliban, and cooperate with international courts and U.S. military tribunals that will be convened to judge members of Al Qaeda. His hands will be strengthened if Afghanistan makes local justice the first building block of its renewed state.