U experts consider Afghan future

by Justin Ware

As Afghanistan’s northern alliance troops advance across Taliban strongholds, U.S. government officials say they want to restrict any attempt the faction might make to rule the country.

The Taliban has left many of Afghanistan’s major northern cities, prompting the alliance to occupy the areas – too quickly as far as the United States and its allies are concerned.

Eric Sheppard, a University geography professor specializing in Middle Eastern issues, said the United States would like to see a multinational force, predominantly made up of Muslim countries, take temporary control of Afghanistan.

“A good regime would have to involve all of the groups,” Sheppard said.

The Taliban’s recent retreat from the Afghan capital Kabul ended years of oppressive Islamic rule for the city’s citizens. But some worry northern alliance rule will change little.

“The northern alliance are a pretty scary group of people themselves,” Sheppard said.

Kabul residents were joyous over the removal of the Taliban, but very few are happy with the northern alliance as a ruling party, he said.

Iraj Bashiri, a Central Asian studies professor who just returned from the region, said a U.N. peacekeeping force should be the first step in stabilizing the country.

“This should be done for (the Afghans) at this stage,” Bashiri said. “(The peacekeepers) should be people trusted by the U.S., the Afghans and the countries around them.”

Bashiri said the United States, along with Pakistan and Russia, need to play a large role in the establishment of a stable and democratic government for Afghans.

The Loya Jirga, or Afghan parliament, consisting of two bodies – one to rule the provincial groups such as the Tajiks and another to rule the tribal groups, such as the Pashtuns – currently exists, but warring factions have limited its effectiveness.

Bashiri said outside countries such as the United States are best suited to establish the Loya Jirga.

“It should not be hard if they have done their homework,” he said. “This should have happened a long time ago.”

Sheppard said setting up a peaceful government could be difficult.

“At the moment, things are moving too quickly for that,” he said.

Bashiri and Sheppard said the northern alliance is not a good solution for the Afghan government.

“There isn’t a strong identity within the northern alliance at all,” Sheppard said, “aside from their common enemy – the Taliban.”

He said the alliance members would probably start fighting among themselves as soon as their conflict with the Taliban ends.

Bashiri said the alliance is comprised of leaders too interested in ruling to cooperate with other factions for the better of the country.

“There are a number of interests in (the northern alliance),” he said.

While government officials from nations worldwide ponder a post-Taliban government, defeating the Islamic regime is the first priority for countries battling terrorism.

Despite its loss of Kabul, the Taliban is far from defeated, Sheppard said.

“The Taliban never really thought of Kabul as their center for power,” he said.

Sheppard said the Taliban doesn’t see Kabul as a major loss. The United States sees it as important because it is the capital.

“It’s a strategic retreat,” he said. “If the Taliban is able to retain the support of the Pashtun, then they are far from defeat.”

The Pashtun are an ethnic tribal group with close ties to Pakistan, Bashiri said.

The Taliban will likely regroup and begin a guerilla war in the mountains, in a scenario similar to Afghanistan’s 1979-89 war with Russia, Sheppard said.

“It’s very hard to bring in ground troops and win in the mountains,” he said.


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