Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 16, 2001
Alliance strives for balance in Kabul presence

At War With Terror

KABUL, Afghanistan - Technicians yesterday dusted off equipment at the studios of Afghan Television, hopeful that the national broadcaster would be operating this weekend for the first time in more than five years.

"I'm happy to put something on the air for people," said Safi Abdulghani, an engineer who had been unemployed since the hard-line Taliban came to power in 1996 and banned photography, movies, music, home computers and television as anathema to Islam.

With the Taliban's ouster from Kabul on Monday by opposition Northern Alliance forces, the veil is slowly lifting from Afghan society. Men are playing soccer in the stadium where the Taliban conducted public executions. Women are free to cover their faces, or bare them. And the Northern Alliance is moving quickly to consolidate power, even as it says it is not establishing itself as a government.

At Kabul International Airport, repairs have begun on the runway heavily damaged by the U.S. air strikes that were critical to ousting the Taliban.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, employees pasted up a photograph of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the revered Northern Alliance military leader who was assassinated two months ago, and a portrait of Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of the Northern Alliance and head of the government the Taliban pushed out of Kabul in 1996.

At the Interior Ministry, Yunis Qanooni settled himself back in the office he was forced to flee five years ago.

"We haven't prepared the ministries for business yet," Qanooni said yesterday, a coffee table bearing six telephones at his elbow. "When we entered Kabul, we didn't come to set up a government - we just entered Kabul to establish security."

The Northern Alliance's plans for Kabul are extremely sensitive because - recognizing its unpopularity for the factional infighting that left 50,000 Kabul residents dead when it held power in the early 1990s - it had promised to stop short of Kabul during its offensive.

But the Taliban retreat was so quick and so complete - Kabul was abandoned in just a few hours early Tuesday - it led to a power vacuum that looters and armed groups quickly exploited. So the army and Qanooni's gray-uniformed police moved in rapidly Tuesday morning to reestablish order.

"We didn't have a plan to enter into Kabul," Qanooni said. "Kabul was unguarded, so we came in."

That has put the Northern Alliance, mostly made up of ethnic minorities, in a difficult position to allay fears that it has seized power and intends to exclude the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. Qanooni yesterday denied that the alliance was settling into the seat of power. He said Rabbani would delay any return to Kabul - "and if he comes, he won't come in as president but as a faction leader."

Alliance officials emphasize their support for plans to establish a broad-based government, assisted by the United Nations.

A U.N. Security Council resolution passed Wednesday allows deployment of troops of the U.S.-led coalition to help maintain order. The council wants the top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to convene an urgent meeting of Afghan leaders on a transitional administration.

But events on the ground are moving almost too fast to allow the international community to respond.

As reports arrived yesterday of the Taliban's increasing disarray, the Northern Alliance troops remained stationary outside Kabul, negotiating with local Pashtun leaders about joining forces. Most of those leaders, whose followers are armed, are demanding that the alliance allow an international force to keep order until Afghan representatives can create a government acceptable to most.

The Northern Alliance says it would welcome a U.N. role in setting up a new government; it has been less clear about welcoming foreign troops.

Qanooni said his colleagues were committed to establishing a loya jirga, or council of ethnic leaders, to select the next head of state. He also said Afghanistan's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, must play a role in the negotiations.

The alliance's effort to characterize its own role in Kabul this week sometimes has required a fair amount of doublespeak.

It maintains the pose that its military forces do not occupy the city. Qanooni calls the 3,000 troops guarding Kabul "security forces" under his civilian control, rather than the army's. And he maintains that many of the soldiers in Kabul simply came to visit family and friends after five long years sequestered in the north. And while the Northern Alliance insists it is not establishing a government, the move to open several ministries indicates the occupation forces are thinking about more than just maintaining law and order.

Nevertheless, Qanooni, who previously had expressed no objection to being called "Mr. Minister," now hastily responds, "I'm not the minister, I'm the chief of security."

Although Kabul is relatively peaceful now, the situation remains unsettled for many residents because there is no single long-range plan to bring peace to Afghanistan.

"I don't know what to think of the Northern Alliance," said Abdul Wali, an office worker. "Who will guarantee peace tomorrow? Who will guarantee peace this afternoon?"

Despite such skeptics, there is no denying that the entry into Kabul was remarkably well-organized, demonstrating much more planning ability than the alliance's threadbare government in exile had exhibited.

Qanooni is proud of the job the alliance has done at maintaining order - and pleasantly surprised at the absence of overt animosity.

"I was very worried about security," he said. "After five years, you expect to find a lot of enemies, a lot of hostility, a lot of ethnic tension between Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks."

Qanooni said the Northern Alliance troops who are not under the Interior Ministry's control will soon leave the city for barracks set up on the city's outskirts. He said the move would fulfill the alliance's pledge to not militarize Kabul.

"We have to make a new decision about the army people in the city," he said, before meeting yesterday with about 30 high-ranking army commanders to discuss the issue. "The army will leave all the city. There will be special places for them around the city, but not right in the city." home page   
Recent news
  | Africa coverage  |  Archives  |  Afghanistan coverage  |  E-mail from Africa  |  Magazine articles | Photographs  |  Bio 
African Odyssey
  |  Apartheid's Secrets  |  Democracy's Promises  |  The Forgotten Wars  |  Rwanda: Aftermath of Genocide

Copyright 2001-2006 Andrew Maykuth