The Northern Alliance – Who and what

Have the Taleban withdrawn their forces without a fight to allow internal divisions to split this mixture of enemies and allies, otherwise known as the Northern Alliance?

This force of 20,000 soldiers, backed by Russia, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, is composed mainly by ethnic Uzbeks, Tajikhs and Hazaras, whose tribal homelands are all in the north-east of the country, around the Panjshir Valley, Takhar and the Shomali plain.

The influential Ahmed Shah Massoud, “Lion of Panjshir”, assassinated on September 9th at the orders of Bin Laden, was believed to be the man most able to hold the various factions together. This is no mean task, due to the nature of the Northern Alliance.

There are six main components to this movement. Jamiat-i-Islami, led by Burhannudin Rabbani, a Tajikh, is a moderate Islamic party supported mainly by Uzbekhs and Tajikhs. Jumbush-i-Milli (National Islamic Movement), is led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, based around Mazar-i-Sharif, is supported mainly by Sunnite Uzbekhs. Hezb-i-Wahdat, a coalition of eight smaller movements, is mainly Shiite and is supported by the Hazara tribe. The leader is Karim Khalili and its heartland is Hazarajat, in central Afghanistan.

Ittehad-i-Islami is the fourth main group. Abdurrab Rasul Sayaf, backed by Saudi Arabia, leads this movement, which is supported by some of the Pashtun, the main ethnic group in Afghanistan. The Jamiat Shura-i-Nazar was the party led by Massoud, now taken over by his second-in-command, General Mohammad Fahim, who was a member of Najibullah’s communist government which fell in 1992.

Finally, there are minor factions, such as Hezb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a faction led by General Abdul Malik, which broke away from this party. Another is the following of Ismail Khan, the ex-governor of Herat, who left Jamiat-i-Islami to form his own faction.

By falling back virtually without a fight to their power base, the Taleban have allowed the Northern Alliance into areas where tensions are bound to flare up in the coming weeks. The power of diplomacy will have to use all its skills if a lasting, stable government is to be formed in Kabul.

The question is whether or not any government can survive without a Taleban component, since much of the Taleban ethos is based as much on Islamic law as on Pashtun lore. This ethnic group, accounting for 45% of the country’s population, is bound to be sympathetic to a representative presence of the Taleban in a future government.

Foreign interference in complex situations such as these often creates more problems than it solves.


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