The advent of U.S. attacks on terrorist bases in Afghanistan has attracted new interest in the vexing question of how to free that country from the vicious cycle of internal conflict and civil war. Once prominent figures on Afghanistan's political and military landscape are again emerging from exile or obscurity. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas talked to a former Afghan rebel commander who is now engaged in a search for peace.
There was a time when the name Abdul Haq would send a shudder of fear through the ranks of communist forces in Afghanistan. The chief of Mujahedin, or rebel, forces in the Kabul region in the 1980s and early 90s, he earned a reputation as a wily and brave commander. The legend is that he was wounded some 20 times.
When Kabul fell to the Mujahedin in 1992, he was named national police chief. But he soon quit in disgust at the fighting between the Mujahedin factions and left for Dubai.
But now Abdul Haq is back from his exile, returning to the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, where rebel commanders, journalists, and spies again congregate much as they did during the anti-Communist war.
Speaking by telephone, Abdul Haq said is trying to cobble together a new alliance that can be in position to govern Afghanistan once the ruling Taleban fall from power.
For Abdul Haq, the Northern Alliance, made up predominantly of minority ethnic groups from the north, might be able to defeat the Taleban in the aftermath of the U.S. strikes. But, he added, it is questionable whether they can govern. "There's no doubt after a certain amount of pressure, there's a possibility they can throw Taleban out," he said. "But whether they can make a government or not, whether they can bring peace or not, whether there will be stability or not that's another issue."
Nearly two years ago, he began his efforts as he quietly put out feelers to second and third level Taleban commanders to gauge their willingness to defect. Abdul Haq, who is of the majority ethnic Pashtun community, also contacted former Mujahedin commanders. The idea, he said, is to form a government that would be nominally headed by exiled King Zahir Shah, at least initially, but one that is not dominated by the Northern Alliance.
"And to use this opportunity we would bring the tribal elders, the former commanders, and Taleban commanders together and change the Taleban system and bring a new system which brings peace and security," said Abdul Haq. "Then we will tell the allied forces or the Americans, say now a new system is here, the old is gone, don't bomb, don't shoot. And plus we'd make a program to - the Northern Alliance will not take over because it will be a new system for everybody. And then we probably can have a peace after a very long time. That's what I was working on, that's what I was hoping for."
Abdul Haq said he was making progress in his efforts from his exile. But, for him, the terrorist attack in the United States and the U.S.-led military response has dramatically changed things. The U.S. attacks are creating some sympathy for the Taleban, he feels. And he said the attacks are also driving a wedge between the Northern Alliance and other groups in the south. "What we need in this situation is to compromise, to make cooperation, but this kind of activity is putting more distance between us," he stressed."
According to Abdul Haq, the United States should finish the operation as quickly as possible, then support the setting up of a transitional government. If not, he said, Afghanistan will again be plunged into internal conflict. "Otherwise, if they continue like that, they don't think about what kind of political structure is there, then there will be disaster, more fighting for a long time, and again there will be more atrocities, more terrorist activity back in your country," he went on to say.
Abdul Haq adds that terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden is viewed more favorably in Pakistan than in his country, where, he said, people are more concerned about feeding themselves and their families in the coming winter.