Acknowledging that it faces a determined foe and a long war in Afghanistan, the Bush administration is looking ahead to how to establish a government in the Central Asian country that won't provide a haven to terrorists.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that once the U.S. military campaign topples the Taliban regime, a broadly representative group of Afghan leaders can begin to generate ideas for a coalition government that could be established with United Nations assistance.
The goal set by the United States and Britain as they work with the UN in preparing a major nation-building effort is to end Afghanistan's role as host to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The Taliban government must now go, because they are part and parcel to Al Qaeda," Powell told the House International Relations Committee. "Once that regime has gone, it is necessary to find a successor regime that represents all the people of Afghanistan."
The effort will almost certainly involve a UN peacekeeping mission to establish a stable environment in which the new government can "get its sea legs," Powell said. It will also require a smaller-scale version of the post-World War II Marshall Plan to repair Afghanistan's shattered infrastructure and housing stock.
While Powell testified in Washington, representatives of some Afghan groups met in Pakistan to discuss ideas for an a political alternative to Taliban rule.
The Bush administration has been careful to emphasize that no one country can dictate Afghanistan's future. In particular, the White House is concerned that neighboring Pakistan may establish a regime dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, the same group that forms the core of the Taliban.
"The next government of Afghanistan cannot be dictated into existence by Pakistan or any of the other neighbors," Powell said. "It has to be an internationally blessed process, and it has to involve the UN, and it has to involve all the Afghan people."
Pakistan's role in Afghanistan's future presents the U.S. with a delicate problem because the government of President Pervez Musharraf, despite strenuous opposition from fundamentalist Islamic Pakistanis, is providing vital logistical support to the U.S. military campaign.
In Washington on Wednesday for meetings at the White House and State Department, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw has taken a lead role in the planning for Afghanistan's future. In a speech Monday in London, Straw laid out four principles for rebuilding the country: direct involvement of the Afghan people across all ethnic groups; a global coalition to help the rebuilding; a lead role for the UN; the financing needed to rebuild.
"Terrorists are strongest where states are weakest," Straw said. Drawing a link between a string of bloody national meltdowns in recent decades in Cambodia, Angola, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Congo and Afghanistan, Straw said: "When we allow governments to fail, warlords, criminals, drug barons or terrorists will fill the vacuum."
Challenged in Congress
Appearing before a committee heavily represented by staunch supporters of Israel, Powell was also peppered with questions about how the U.S. could justify criticizing Israel for its policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorists when the U.S. was doing the same thing in Afghanistan.
"I think it is the ultimate of hypocrisy to have State Department spokesmen criticize our democratic allies for actions we ourselves engage in," Lantos said.
"It's a very difficult question," Powell conceded, "and it's one we struggle with in the department."
Powell also struggled with it in the hearing as one member after another asked him the same thing in a reflection of the powerful pro-Israel lobby's concern over the criticism Israel has taken from the Bush administration this week.
Targeted killings by Israel of specific Palestinians allegedly preparing terrorist attacks have been detrimental to the peace process and have been criticized by U.S. administrations long before Bush took office, Powell said. The difference, Powell said, is that the U.S. is trying to destroy Al Qaeda and topple the Taliban, whereas Israel is trying to negotiate a permanent peace with the Palestinians.
Powell said the Israeli actions go "against individuals and an organization with which you are also trying to get a [peace] process started. [That] makes it, I think, a little bit different than what we are doing with respect to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan."
Powell called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "a dear friend" and said he understood the reasons why Israel would send troops into sections of the Palestinian-controlled West Bank believed to harbor terrorists.