Afghans far from home

Bonn conference: Competing groups owe people, world a better effort at accord than last time.

November 27, 2001

CONTENTIOUS representatives of the main Afghan ethnic, political and interest groups meeting at a secluded hotel overlooking the Rhine in Germany, starting today, have all failed before.

They failed their country, their people and a bemused world that would rather Afghanistan took care of its own affairs.

They represent:

The Northern Alliance or United Front, who after victory in 1992 plunged their country into four years of civil war, atrocities, international terrorism and tyranny against women -- leading to a popular welcome for the Taliban, who proved worse.

The old king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who was deposed by a power-grabbing cousin 28 years ago and went into comfortable exile, remote from the suffering of his people, most of them not born when he was last in Afghanistan.

The Peshawar group of Pashtuns, from the dominant ethnic group, who have been dining on the generosity of Pakistan's intelligence service.

The Cyprus group of exiled leaders from ethnic groups similarly beholden to Iran.

What is required of this group is to create a transitional committee to give some semblance of national sovereignty and civic order to the country until a grand council can create a truly representative, broad-based, interim regime.

Even this provisional task would be too much to ask of these people left to their own devices. Only the U.S. and coalition intervention put them back on the threshold of power. The outside world invested too much this time to look away from irresponsibility.

The United Nations arranged this meeting and is in charge. The United States has earned the right to advise. The delegates are not left to their own worst instincts.

A provisional regime must share power, rest lightly on the backs of a suffering people, respect their diversity, harmonize rival militias, enable humanitarian feeding and de-mining, resist a revival of the opium trade and re-enlist women as full citizens.

It is not too much for the Afghan people and the outside world to expect and require.

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