U.S. should lead way on new Afghan rule

November 14, 2001|By Elie D. Krakowski

THE CAPTURE of large swaths of territory by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan has increased the urgency of forming a new interim government in the war-ravaged country.

Until now, ethnic Pashtun commanders in Taliban-held territory had little incentive to defect. They rightly feared that any attempt at defection would be met by swift execution at the hands of the Arab-controlled Taliban.

Forming an ethnically inclusive interim government would be a powerful signal that the time has come to join the winning side. The hunt for Osama bin Laden and his Arab cohorts would be immensely facilitated: The Afghans know where all the bin Laden and al-Qaida hiding places are and are the most eager to be rid of the Arabs' presence.

The creation of an interim Afghan government is not as daunting a task as it is sometimes portrayed. Such a government's immediate function would be to provide a clear alternative to the Taliban. It need not be a full-fledged structure able to run the country efficiently; that will come in due course.

But it is very important that an interim government include all ethnic groups. The symbolic leadership of Zahir Shah, the former king now in exile in Rome, could be helpful as a rallying point, but should not be made into the centerpiece of the effort. A broad-based interim arrangement must stand on its own merits and in no way prejudge the final shape of an Afghan government.

The Bush administration should make clear its determination to have a broad-based interim arrangement in place within the next two weeks. It should unambiguously and strongly encourage a rapid successful conclusion to the ongoing talks among the ex-king, the Northern Alliance and others. A powerful incentive to productive results is the U.S. option of proceeding with the players who are currently available.

A solid core for such an interim government already exists. There are some powerful and respected leaders with a wide popular following already available: Ismail Khan in western Afghanistan and individuals such as Hamid Karzai in the Pashtun south of the country.

These two alone would command the loyalty of large numbers of Afghans. Together with the former king and key Northern Alliance leaders, they could easily be constituted into an interim setup. The United Nations should play at most a supporting role. The United States should retain a visible leading role.

The Afghans have increasingly come to resent and hate bin Laden, his Arab cohorts and the many Pakistani fighters who have been colonizing their country.

Given an alternative, they will enthusiastically help to eliminate their presence. This means that careful thought must be given to helping the new interim government in a multitude of ways. What the United States must do is not simply provide money and food but help the Afghans help themselves.

Care should be taken in how Washington interacts and assists. Just as the United States should avoid deferring its own definition of strategy to Pakistan, it should shun even the appearance of the same with, for example, the Uzbeks. The loosely organized Northern Alliance is not free from less-than-desirable leaders, and U.S. assistance must recognize that.

Aid should be steered so as to strengthen effective and popular commanders and marginalize others. It should be extended on the understanding that the Northern Alliance will honor its commitments to democratic values.

Everyone in the world who is not with the terrorists is, in fact, with the United States, despite whether it likes America. They side with the United States because they understand that the Sept. 11 attack on America was an attack on civilization, and that when the United States is assaulted no one anywhere is safe. They also understand that if the United States does not win, everyone loses -- and loses big.

But every state also continues to live in the past, a prisoner of its preconceptions and habits. Regardless of what these states say, or how they criticize this or that American move, they expect the United States to lead, to define its strategy and implement it.

Elie D. Krakowski, a former Defense Department policy aide during the Reagan administrations, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington and an expert on Afghanistan. He lives in Baltimore.

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