U.N. is needed to help stabilize Afghanistan

Jump-start the process: No time to wait for factions to initiate cooperation

bring them together.

November 14, 2001

THE UNITED Nations should waste no time setting up an interim civil authority in Kabul and restarting humanitarian aid that was severed when the bombing started.

Rather than wait for Afghans to form a broad-based interim regime, U.N. political officers should summon them and assign roles. This is made urgent by the collapse of Taliban authority and the over- swift filling of the vacuum by the Northern Alliance.

No less a figure than Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, a Pashtun elder statesman opponent of the Taliban, said as much as this in Islamabad. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain uttered similar sentiments.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who reports to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has been trying to do this. Yesterday he outlined a proposed two-year transition to the Security Council. What's needed first is a more proactive role by him, with full U.S. support.

Real U.N. policy on this question is made by an unofficial group called the Six Plus Two committee. The six are the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan: Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The two are the United States and Russia.

Among them are champions of all the factions and interests. What the Six Plus Two agree upon, the Security Council will pass. The Six Plus Two should agree on this.

For pacified areas, a peace-keeping force with blue helmets makes sense for a short duration. Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and other Islamic countries have offered troops.

Pakistan, instinctively hostile to the Northern Alliance, does not belong. But Pakistan's interests in a friendly Afghanistan and the welfare of the Pashtun people must be visibly served. U.S. diplomacy needs to show President Pervez Musharraf a winner for his courageous aid in the fight against terrorism.

The United States combatant role is not over. The war aims stated by President Bush at the outset are the dismantling of the al-Qaida terrorist network, the capture or death of Osama bin Laden and the removal of the Taliban regime. As long as Taliban fighters obey Mullah Mohammad Omar, and take to the hills under orders, that U.S. war aim is unfulfilled. Tactics to attain it would adjust, and a swift reduction of bombing could be part of that.

For two and a half centuries, Afghanistan was a coherent, independent country led by Pashtuns with places of honor for others. So it should be again, a single, stable country that can sustain pipelines between neighbors and that can reconcile the interests of Pakistan and Iran, running its own affairs.

But this cannot be attained overnight. The United Nations should give it a jump-start.

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