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A Post-Taliban Plan, Now

Opposition fighters in Afghanistan swept across the north and entered Kabul Monday, driving the Taliban before them and validating the U.S. strategy of bombing the enemy while leaving the ground war to the Northern Alliance. But the fighters’ arrival at the capital and their earlier capture of the city of Mazar-i-Sharif make establishing a political framework to replace the Taliban rulers all the more urgent.

It is far from certain that the alliance can hold on to the wide swath of territory it seized so swiftly, and it may still have to battle the Taliban in its southern strongholds. Of greater importance right now is the makeup of an eventual new government. The next regime must represent all regions and ethnic groups--especially the majority Pushtuns, from the south, as well as the northern Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek tribes that constitute the alliance. A claim of sole rule by ethnic minorities would mean war without end, particularly if the rule were to begin with brutal reprisals.

The new government also cannot be perceived as imposed by other nations. One problem is that Russia and Iran have supplied the Northern Alliance since the Taliban drove it out of Kabul several years ago. That support is poison to the Afghans who fought Moscow’s troops for a decade after the 1979 invasion. It doesn’t help that the alliance was brutal when it reigned in Kabul.

The best solution will be for the United Nations to help establish a broad-based government, probably under the figurehead leadership of Mohammad Zaher Shah, the exiled king. But the U.N. and its point man on the Afghan issue, Lakhdar Brahimi, have to move more quickly. Hold the meeting this week, perhaps in Geneva, with invitations to all groups. Northern Alliance leaders occasionally have indicated they realize they cannot form a government by themselves. They need to meet now with other groups to plan a post-Taliban Afghanistan. This new government will be critical not only to the beleaguered citizens of Afghanistan but to the global anti-terrorist coalition. Long after the fall of Kabul, the coalition’s objectives are likely to remain: capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and dismantling his Al Qaeda network.

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The new government must not itself provide a haven for terrorists, and it cannot be allowed to finance itself with opium. What it can and must do is be ready to start filling in where the Taliban has so miserably failed.

The capture of so much territory should allow aid groups to start supplying millions of Afghans with the food they need to ward off starvation. Decades of warfare and years of drought have devastated the country. For the time being, the U.N. can take the lead in meeting the need for food and clothes. As a new government wobbles into being, immediate humanitarian relief in the face of some uncertainty and danger would demonstrate again that this is not a war against the Afghan people, or against Islam, but against terror.


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