Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 15, 2001
Calm returns to Kabul
Kabul Residents are still mindful of the Northern Alliance's past chaotic rule. 

At War With Terror

Khush Rung stands in his house amid his belongings, all packed in case he needs to flee.

WOOD KHIL, Afghanistan - Khush Rung packed his household goods two months ago in the event anarchy broke out in this village near Kabul and he needed to make a quick escape.

He stayed put after the U.S. bombing began Oct. 7 and shattered the windows of his house. And he stayed put on Tuesday, after anti-Taliban forces entered Kabul and 10 of his neighbors panicked and moved their belongings out of town.

Yesterday, the day after the Taliban fled the capital and the Northern Alliance troops poured in, there was still no sign that Rung was ready to depart.

Then again, the ethnic Pashtun local leader was not so confident of the new regime to unpack the bundles he stacked up in his maid's room in case of a quick getaway.

"A lot of people are ready to leave this town," Rung, 55, said yesterday. "But the situation is quiet now and everything is OK."

Rung's suspicious acceptance of the Northern Alliance was typical of the wariness in Kabul yesterday as the group, also known as the United Front, settled in as Afghanistan's de facto government and the Taliban, hammered by a relentless American air assault, rapidly gave up control even in cities such as Jalalabad and - while its fall remains unconfirmed - Kandahar, where it once had unquestioned power.

Northern Alliance leaders moved back into ministries they were forced to vacate in 1996 when the Taliban entered Kabul. And a sense of calm and order returned to a city that has undergone several fearful stampedes for the exits in recent months.

Shoppers yesterday returned to Kabul's markets, which were locked up and empty the day before in anticipation that the arrival of the Northern Alliance would set off an ethnic bloodbath.

"It was my best day in two months since the terrorist attacks in the United States," said Haji Amin Allah, a seller of rice, beans, flour and household goods. His sales nearly tripled to $150 yesterday, which he attributed to consumer confidence.

The gray-uniformed police and camouflaged soldiers who guarded government compounds and inspected vehicles at roadblocks also seemed on their best behavior. There were no reports of looting, either by opportunists or the soldiers. There were no indiscriminate acts of ethnic hatred attributed to the Northern Alliance troops dominated by minority groups from the north, primarily Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Worried about reports of executions of militant foreign troops who supported the Islamic regime during Monday's lightning offensive against Kabul, the Northern Alliance urged Afghan groups to meet quickly to form a transitional government backed by an international force.

But Northern Alliance chieftains seemed to be slowly gaining more confidence about their roles as leaders of the new government. Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign minister, urged Afghan groups to meet in Kabul rather than a foreign country to "negotiate" a transitional government. But he also indicated the Northern Alliance had a much stronger hand to play now that it controlled Kabul.

"There is a totally new situation in Afghanistan," he said Tuesday. The Northern Alliance's rapid conquest demanded "a new evaluation of the situation," he said.

But memories are long in this city built on a small plain surrounded by dramatic jagged mountains. Many residents recall the chaos that accompanied the Northern Alliance's first attempt at governing Afghanistan nine years ago.

Following the 13 years of war to oust a Soviet occupation force and Afghanistan's communist government, the Islamic warriors known as mujaheddin ushered in an era of disorganization and bickering after their conquest of Kabul in 1992. When rivals failed to arrange a provisional government, factional fighting caused thousands of civilian casualties as Kabul was showered with rockets.

The Taliban, which developed as a home-grown Pashtun religious militia force in reaction to marauding mujaheddin squads, pushed the government of President Burnahuddin Rabbani out of Kabul in 1996. Initially it was regarded as a stabilizing force.

Now the Northern Alliance may get a second chance to govern. Though guerrilla leaders said they want to develop a broad-based government encompassing all ethnic groups, the Northern Alliance is still regarded with deep suspicion by many Pashtuns, the country's dominant ethnic group.

"The people will not accept the Northern Alliance," said Dad Mohammed Bahir Abdullah, the acting country director of Care International in Kabul. "They have a very bad memory of 1992."

Abdullah, a Pashtun, acknowledged the Northern Alliance entered Kabul on Tuesday in a much more orderly and disciplined manner than in 1992, with military and police units assuming preassigned posts around the city.

And though he had been worried that the Northern Alliance would break its promise and send troops into the capital, Abdullah said it was not such a bad idea because anarchy was reigning in the political vacuum that occurred after the Taliban fled Kabul early Tuesday.

"It was good they came into Kabul," he said. "But looking into the future, it will be hard to get them out."

Khush Rung is also wary of allowing the military into Kabul, where he does not want a return to a situation where different armed factions controlled various parts of the capital. The Taliban was little better.

"The Taliban was not a good government for Afghanistan," said Rung, who, like many Afghans, would prefer for power to be handed over to a U.N.-arranged force. "We're just waiting for the new government to bring peace for Afghanistan, that doesn't rule in favor of one ethnic group such as Tajik and Pashtun." home page   
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