Afghanistan: prolonged conflict in sight

As the ethnic balance in Afghanistan is again upset, the field is set for years of instability and violence with none of the proposed models being accepted by all the players.

The United Nations Organisation plans to build a new administration in Kabul with the broadest possible ethnic base. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called an international conference to discuss the composition of a transition government. According to the plan he submitted to the UN Security Council, this will be implemented in five stages.

First, a provisory council representing all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan will be set up, with one personality representative of national unity as its leader. This council will nominate a government and propose a political programme for a two-year period. A first Loya Jirga (traditional meeting of Afghan tribal leaders, which must by custom be held inside Afghanistan) will appreciate this programme. After the transition period, a second Loya Jirga will approve a constitution and nominate a government and finally, there will be a democratic election.

The Loya Jirga is described by ex-Military Chief of Staff Abdul Wali as “the only political organism which will allow Afghanistan to come through the state of chaos, confusion and insecurity it finds itself in and give security to the people”.

As for a national figure to represent all the Afghan people, the problem begins here. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that rapid action is needed to avoid a “political and security vacuum in Afghanistan”.

This appears to be happening already, with reported looting, pillaging, murder and torture following the Northern Alliance as it did in the period from 1992 to 1996, before the Taleban pushed them back into their ethnic enclosures in the north. Stephanie Bunker, UN spokesperson in Islamabad, stated that “various sources have confirmed that 100 young men from different ethnic groups were killed by the Northern Alliance at six o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday November 10th”.

Since then, UN and Non-Government Organisation offices have been looted by Northern Alliance troops in Mazar-i-Sharif and, according to UNICEF spokesperson in Islamabad, Chulho Hyung, an international aid convoy was attacked by the same group, an attack in which two drivers were killed. The convoy was promptly looted. Meanwhile, the CNN journalist in Termiz told other reporters that there have been reports of more than 600 executions by the Northern Alliance soldiers in recent days.

The future of the Northern Alliance remains open to question, after the death of the charismatic leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, killed by Taleban suicide bombers shortly before September 11th, giving rise to the suspicion that this whole debacle had been carefully planned beforehand by Bin Laden and the Taleban leadership.

The Northern Alliance will not count on the support of Pakistan, whose Foreign Office spokesperson Aziz Khan declared “Our point of view is that the Northern alliance should not occupy Kabul”. This hope was reiterated by the United States. However, as the Taleban perform a well-disciplined tactical withdrawal into the mountains, their stronghold, leaving the main cities to the Tajiks, Uzbekhs and Hazara (which form the Northern Alliance), the stage is set for a replay of the conflict against the Soviet Army.

It will be remembered that the Soviet Armed Forces occupied all the country’s main cities within 4 days. Ten years later, they were forced to leave a country they had never managed to dominate.

General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has stated that an absence of Pashtun in a new government would be very dangerous, while Pashtun tribes from eastern Afghanistan have called for the Taleban to be represented in any new administration. However, Russia is against any participation by the Taleban in a future government.

The Northern Alliance are mistrusted by other ethnic groups, and Pakistan, after their horrendous human rights record in the past. The scenes of torture and murder in Kabul after the regime of president Najibullah fell are still fresh in the memories of many Afghans.

The Blue Berets, the UN peace-keeping force, is not appropriate in this situation, according to special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Therefore the 6 + 2 (Afghanistan’s neighbours plus the Russian federation and the USA) group of countries negotiating the situation must produce a solution fast.

As for any notion that King Ahmed Shah will be welcomed back like a hero, this will certainly not happen, judging from the reactions of the players. After decades in exile, he is seen within the country as a man out of touch with the people, a puppet to be managed by foreigners, traditionally mistrusted in Afghanistan.

Neither is 87-year-old King Ahmed Shah supported by Pakistan, which remembers his nationalist position regarding the Pakistani border provinces in which there are 15 million Pashtun. Shah has pronounced himself against the Durand Line, drawn by the British in the nineteenth century, and claims the Pakistan provinces of Baluchistan and the North-West frontier as being part of Afghanistan.

Another option for a representative leader is the official President of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a 61-year-old Tajikh scholar. A moderate Islamist, Rabbani officially represents Afghanistan at the United Nations. He, too, does not accept the idea of a King Shah: “Zaher Shah can enter Afghanistan but as a normal citizen”, he declared.

Pakistan, however, does not recognise Rabbani in particular or any other Tajikh leader in general in Afghanistan, in part due to the ethnic composition of Afghanistan being mainly Pashtun (45%) and Tajikh (30%) and in part because Rabbani is considered as being pro-Indian.

All Pashtun organisations have declared that a grave mistake has been committed by the United States and United Nations in allowing the Northern Alliance to dominate the country. They claim that an ethnic imbalance has been set in motion which will only lead to an increase in violence.

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq pronounced his opinion in Baghdad on November 14th, stating that the coalition which the international community is trying to set up is bound to fail. “Even if America forms a government in Kabul, its problem will not be solved. It is only fostering what it qualifies as terrorism, instead of eliminating it”.


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