Rebels' advance viewed warily

Exiled Afghans want U.N. to take lead in planning transition

November 14, 2001|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - With the ruling Taliban on the run, and with pursuing Northern Alliance forces commanding a capital city where they're an ethnic minority, Afghanistan is again up for grabs, a status that in the past 22 years has invariably produced blood and chaos.

For the moment, most of the would-be power brokers among exiled Afghans seem content to wait in the wings, saying it's up to the United Nations to set their house in order and come up with a formula for governing.

"I had hoped we could have achieved a political solution before this happened," exiled political leader Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani said yesterday of the sudden vacuum of power. Gailani, perhaps the most prominent representative of exiled Afghan king Zahir Mohammad Shah, added, "Now we hope that the United Nations as quickly as possible will move in and lay out the organization for a transition period."

Any international forces might first have to dislodge the Northern Alliance, which broke its pledges to the United States and Pakistan and rushed into the capital city of Kabul yesterday in the wake of the Taliban retreat.

The move followed a stunning reversal of military fortunes during the past three days. Rebel forces had been pinned into a corner of 10 percent of Afghan territory for the past several years but broke through Taliban defenses after weeks of heavy bombardment of Taliban positions.

U.S. elation over the breakthrough soon turned to concern as the Northern Alliance advanced rapidly toward Kabul, where ethnic Pashtuns easily can recall the ill treatment suffered years ago at the hands of the alliance - which is made up mostly of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

Under heavy international pressure to share power, the alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said all Afghan factions - except the Taliban - would be invited to Kabul to negotiate a new government.

Abdullah defended the alliance move into Kabul, saying that after the Taliban left, armed "irresponsible people" caused disturbances. "There was no option for us but to send our security forces into Kabul," he said.

Gailani said he was willing to forgive the move into the capital, if only to prevent the streets of Kabul from erupting into anarchy. But he and others are clearly on edge.

"The Northern Alliance is not reliable," said Haji Abdul Ghafoor, a Pashtun tribal leader and ally of Zahir Shah Mohammad. "They are doing this just for power, not for Afghanistan.

"If any government comes to power by force," Gailani said, "we will only have more problems."

Early signs were not promising. While many residents celebrated by honking car horns and playing loud music, relieved at the end of the Taliban's oppressive occupation, Northern Alliance forces were reportedly rounding up and summarily executing enemy stragglers, in Kabul and other captured cities.

Taliban forces appeared to be consolidating near their spiritual capital of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It is unclear how much of a fight they might put up if challenged there.

U.S. Ambassador James Dobbins, President Bush's special envoy to the region, was in Rome yesterday where he spent an hour meeting with ex-king Zahir Shah Mohammad. Dobbins stressed that the process of planning for a post-Taliban Afghanistan was in its early stages, and that the U.S. was aiming for the broadest possible coalition of Afghan political partners. But the bickering between Afghan factions continues.

Zahir Shah, through an emissary, was among the first to accuse the Northern Alliance of bad faith for allowing its soldiers to enter Kabul. Zahir Shah, who was forced into exile 28 years ago, says he has no interest in restoring the monarchy, but even for the figurehead role that he proposes for himself, support appears tepid at best among the key domestic players in Afghanistan and among Afghanistan's neighbors.

The Northern Alliance leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, said that he would return to Kabul today but that the former king should return only as an ordinary citizen.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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