Powell outlines U.S. role in Afghanistan

U.S. would provide aid, help form government

War On Terrorism : The World

October 11, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell signaled yesterday an active U.S. role in putting together a future government in Afghanistan and helping the country prevent a return to the instability that has racked it since the end of the Cold War.

The plan he sketched out, which includes working with the United Nations and supplying humanitarian aid and assisting Afghanistan's economic development, would push the United States close to the kind of "nation-building" that President Bush has said he wants to avoid.

"I think it's important for all of us to recognize that in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, we will have important work to do - humanitarian work, economic development, helping the people of Afghanistan and putting in place some level of stability that has so far eluded Afghanistan in recent years," Powell told NBC's Today.

The Bush administration says it expects the militant Islamic Taliban government to collapse as a result of the U.S and British air attacks and ground assaults by opposition forces.

Diplomats and analysts say putting together a new government will be a tough challenge. It would involve drawing together diverse ethnic groups and factions that have fought for a decade, and mediating among powerful neighboring countries - Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India - with a stake in Afghanistan's future.

Public statements by administration officials indicate disagreement or difficulty in figuring out the role the United States must play in Afghanistan's future.

Republicans criticized the Democratic Clinton administration for its heavy involvement in U.N.-sponsored efforts to restore order in collapsed states, citing the failure in Somalia, where U.S. troops withdrew in 1993 after 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force troops were killed in one action.

As recently as Sept. 25, Bush insisted, "We're not into nation-building" in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested Tuesday that though the United States is attempting to root out terrorism there, it bears little responsibility beyond humanitarian relief.

"It certainly does suggest that we would have a humanitarian interest in the people of that country," he said, "but I don't know people who are smart enough ... to tell other countries the kind of arrangements they ought to have to govern themselves."

Powell said the Bush administration would be working with Pakistan and other nations in the region "to make sure that we don't leave the kind of instability that, unfortunately, has been left there in the past, which gave rise to the Taliban. The United Nations might well have to play a very, very important role in a post-Taliban world.

"We want to see eventually arise in Afghanistan a government that represents all the people of Afghanistan, that is prepared to take care of the needs of its people, not to repress its people. And so we are in touch with all the different factions to start to see how such a government could arise if the Taliban were to collapse."

A senior Bush administration official insisted that Powell was not planning a nation-building project. Afghans "have got to form the nation. We've got to help it develop and help make it stable," he said.

U.S. officials say they won't dictate what kind of government takes shape. But senior officials have met in Rome with the 86-year-old exiled king, Muhammad Zahir Shah, to enlist his help in putting together what they call a broad-based post-Taliban regime.

U.S. officials are in regular contact with the United Nations' new special envoy to Afghanistan and with other countries in the "Six-plus-two" group, a U.N. grouping of Afghanistan's neighbors, with the United States and Russia.

If Afghans are successful in putting together a new government, it would likely produce a reconstruction plan and seek international financing, officials say. Analysts and diplomats hold out the distant prospect of pipelines crossing Afghanistan to supply Central Asian gas and oil to Pakistan and India. Pipelines could yield hundreds of millions of dollars annually for Afghanistan, one diplomat said.

But getting Afghanistan's neighbors to agree on the makeup of a new government could prove as big a challenge as pulling together the violent factions, analysts say.

Pakistan, whose help the United States needs in pursuing Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorists, wants the dominant Pashtun ethnic group to have a prominent role in any new government, including breakaway members of the Taliban regime. And Pakistan opposes the strongest opposition group, the Northern Alliance. Pakistan and India oppose any government that would be closely allied with the other nation.

Iran, Afghanistan's neighbor to the west, wants to ensure protection for the Hazara group, which shares its Shiite Muslim faith. Russia supports the Northern Alliance, but does not believe it should control a new government.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the National Security Council official responsible for South Asia, wrote in an article published last year while he worked at the RAND Corp.: "It is not enough to tear down the Taliban. Washington must also create an alternative to their leadership in the long term" and try to strengthen moderate forces.

He cautioned the United States against giving too much support to the Northern Alliance, saying that would hinder working with the majority Pashtun.

Stephen Cohen, a specialist at the Brookings Institution, said: "We'll have to go back to old Afghanistan," which he described as a loose government whose leaders balanced competing interests through patronage and money.

"Kabul will get the money [from international donors] and use it to placate, reward and punish regional warlords."

Outside countries, he said, have an interest in keeping Afghanistan neutral and making sure it does not export "terror, heroin or guns."

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