As important a psychological victory as killing Osama bin Laden was, it wont help stabilise Afghanistan. Tempting as it might be to use bin Ladens death as an opportunity to quickly declare victory against global terrorism and push for a faster exit of US-led forces from Afghanistan, that would be a recipe for failure. While bin Ladens Al-Qaeda has never been a significant military force in Afghanistan, the Taliban in contrast has mobilized tens of thousands of fighters, and is looking increasingly strong. Barely three weeks after bin Ladens demise, the Taliban have launched a series of audacious attacks, killing over 120 people, and raided one of Pakistans largest military bases in Karachi. This latest show of strength and organisation is a testimony to the fact that the Taliban are here to stay. This presents policymakers with an urgent dilemma. After almost a decade of fighting, some in the United States will be inclined to use bin Ladens death as an excuse to hasten its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan. But doing so would lead to swift and certain collapse of the Afghan government, the takeover of the country by the Taliban within weeks and a return of terrorist sanctuaries within Afghanistan. So what can be done to prevent chaos in Afghanistan and its destabilising effects in Pakistan? Is there an effective alternative to a straightforward military strategy, and could securing stability in Afghanistan actually inspire progress in neighbouring Pakistan? Theres been a great deal of talk about the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban, but this alone wouldnt be enough to reduce instability, nor would it eliminate the nefarious networks of militant and extremist groups in Pakistan. Instead, the only sure path to success is to direct efforts toward helping to strengthen and legitimise the Afghan state so that it can stand on its own. A sense of injustice and the belief that power is being exercised illegitimately are at the heart of why Afghans feel so disenchanted with their leaders. And its precisely this space where the Taliban thrive and secure support. Restoring a sense of justice among the public will not only make the Taliban an irrelevant entity in Afghanistan, but could also serve as a model for Pakistan. In its current state, the Afghan state is depressingly weak and corrupt. How did it get like this? The Afghan authorities bear some responsibility, but international donors should accept much of the blame. Beginning in 2001, an astonishingly uncoordinated model of international intervention was followed by massive inflows of foreign aid relative to domestic sources of capital, creating a textbook case of a rentier state. Instead of helping to craft institutions capable of establishing the legitimacy of the state through internal revenue and locally accepted governance, donors made the state entirely dependent on outside forces. This fostered a national leadership with no incentive to allow itself to be held properly accountable to its citizenry. And in the rush to seek quick military solutions, and by sub-contracting the war, donors empowered warlords and their cliques, further weakening the state and exacerbating the perception of injustice. What now? The first step towards redressing the mistakes of the past decade is to help legitimatise the Afghan state. For a start, large inflows of aidmuch of which are currently being diverted outside of the government structureshould be curbed, as should the spending on a security force too large for the country to sustain. Local authorities, for their part, would see their legitimacy boosted in the eyes of their citizens if they relied more on internal sources of revenue, rather than external aid. And there might be a little more money to go around than some might think. Contrary to popular belief, Afghanistan isnt destituteon paper, at least. In 2007, the US Geological Survey announced the discovery of significant deposits of minerals. Suddenly, a country once seen as having no future is now viewed as rich in many natural resources. Indeed, Afghanistan is poised to become one of the worlds largest producers of copper and iron. In addition, rare earth minerals such as lithiumvital to the worlds high-tech industrieshave been discovered within Afghanistans borders. The Hajigak iron ore deposits, meanwhile, are now estimated to be among the largest in the world. These newly discovered minerals could potentially be worth hundreds of millions per yearsome estimates put the annual value of the Mes Aynak copper mines alone at $1.2 billion per year. Such revenues could lead to a renaissance of the 'real Afghan economy, and help create thousands of jobs, attract investment in infrastructure and enable further growth of trade and commerce. This is a game-changer not only for Afghanistan, but for the entire region. Of course the discovery of these resources raises the possibility of Afghanistan becoming a victim of the so-called resource curse, when over dependence can fuel corruption, conflict and even greater levels of poverty. This is a real danger in Afghanistan, where the already tattered social contract between the national government and the people could be torn asunder, leaving even more space for the Taliban to exploit. Preventing this from happening wont be easy. Traditional approaches to managing new natural resources, such as standardizing the bidding process for mine exploration and developing transparent institutions to administer resources and revenues, may take too long to be implemented effectively in Afghanistan. Instead, an alternative two-pronged strategy should be considered. The first step would entail the establishment of a cash transfer of natural resource revenues directly to the citizens of Afghanistan. Direct cash transfer programmes are currently operated in about 45 countries and have had a significant impact on development after being adopted by organisations including the World Bank. In Mexico, for example, a cash transfer programme that reached a quarter of the population in exchange for school attendance and health clinic visits has been successful. Studies of the programme found that (a) children participating had a 12 percent lower incidence of illness, (b) were 33 percent more likely to be enrolled in school, and (c) were 23 percent more likely to finish 9th grade. A programme for schoolgirls in Punjab, Pakistan, meanwhile, increased enrolment by 11 percent. In addition, Bolivia and Mongolia have both established programmes to link their natural resource revenues to finance cash transfer programmes, including copper and gold mines funding Mongolias 'Child Money Programme. Under this structure, the distributed cash would be taxed as normal income. This is vital in Afghanistan as it would not only draw in resources to the state, but would also entice the state to build its own tax collection capacity to recover part of these funds. All this would mean that the government would be forced to depend on its own citizens for revenues, creating greater accountability. And because one of the key problems facing Afghanistan is a loss of trust in the authority of the state, and because this will be an important source of income for Afghans, the programmes would give citizens a direct stake in their countrys future and an incentive to ensure that management of the countrys resources is carefully monitored. The second pillar of this strategy is tied to the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). When first established in 2003, the NSP sought to empower Afghans in rural areas and at the grassroots by establishing local governance bodies called Community Development Councils in villages across the country. Cash grants were then given directly to these elected bodies to help them carry out small-scale rural projects. Over 20,000 communities across the country benefited from the programme, which is now recognised as one of the most successful rural programmes in South Asia. Importantly, the NSP engaged the citizenry by helping them make decisions for themselves and to date its still the only significant development programme affecting over two-thirds of the rural population, and in all 34 provinces of the country. But I would go further, and link the cash transfer structure with the National Solidarity Programme. Its a natural linkthe NSP requires cash grants for the implementation of its community-based development projects and it is by definition a governance programme bringing central and local officials together. Ultimately, because decisions are made within the local community, and because projects are conceived and then run by community members, the NSP was successful in combining development and security togethera goal still eluding most programmes attempted in Afghanistan. At the same time, directly allocating a significant portion of the mineral revenues via cash transfers allows Afghans to decide how to spend the income. One of the fallacies of development aid is the belief that outside donors know better where and how funds need to be spent. But allowing the people to choose how to spend their allocated funds actually leads to better economic and social outcomes. As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reminded us, development is about freeing people from the yoke of poverty, not dictating to them how they should behave. In fact, most spending by those receiving cash transfers are for education, health and sanitation, so they go well beyond mere consumption and are an investment in both economic and social capital formation. Its clear that Afghanistan today faces a Taliban whose strength is directly proportional to the weakness of the government and its international partners. The insurgency isnt gaining ground because it can articulate a better vision for the future; it is doing so because the absence of a legitimate state creates strategic space the militants are adept at exploiting. But theres still a chance Afghanistan can pull through. Indeed, with extremists emboldened by the uprisings in the Middle East, and with Afghanistan now representing a buffer between Iran and Pakistan, its clear the country must pull through. But it will only happen if the countrys leaders can develop both an attractive narrative and the means of protecting its people. Seeking to connect the NSP with cash transfer programmes would be a powerful strategy for helping to secure an effective transition toward a more stable Afghanistan by restoring the sense of justice fundamental to Afghan society. And it might even inspire a shift from a military orientation back to the people in its troubled neighbour. Masood Aziz is a senior diplomat, author and corporate executive. He was the senior advisor to the mission at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington DC, and played leading roles on the Afghanistan Compact, the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and the UNs Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB). Diplomat