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Scholars, Muslims Discuss Post-Taleban Afghanistan - 2001-10-24

Afghan opposition groups are meeting in Peshawar and Istanbul this week in an effort to reach agreement on a post-Taleban government in Afghanistan. So far agreement has eluded them, as the various ethnic and tribal groups pursue their own agendas.

The war is just the beginning, says Farooq Kathwari, the Muslim-American president of Ethan Allen, a leading furniture company. He said, "The first phase of fighting is important, but what is more important is building a coalition to help bring about peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan. In my opinion, it is possible, but it requires a tremendous amount of effort and a consistent effort."

Groups are making an effort, but how successful remains to be seen. Their divisions are sharp and of long standing.

Charles Dunbar, a former U.S. ambassador to Persian Gulf nations and now professor of international affairs at Simmons College, has just returned from a meeting of an Iranian-backed Afghan opposition group on Cyprus. He felt they were trying to reach out and said, "They worked to come up with a communique to Rome, saying that they would like to find a way to join forces with the Rome group, based on former King Zahir. And this would mean, they hope, that there will be a single position from all the leading Afghan expatriates on how Afghanistan should be organized after the Taleban regime departs."

But this group is only one of many with conflicting needs and desires, says Thomas Greene, a former U.S. foreign service officer who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Another meeting takes place in Istanbul this week, with Turkey trying to lend a hand. "The very fact that they are meeting," he said, "and seriously considering ways of forming a post-Taleban government is in itself very encouraging. But it seems to me that each group risks being somewhat exclusionary. For instance, the meeting that is going on in Peshawar under the auspices of Pir Gailani does not apparently include members of the Northern Alliance."

Then there are the divisions in the north. Some of the leaders have questionable backgrounds and indeed by fighting among themselves, they opened the way for the Taleban conquest. There is fear of another round of fighting if they take over Kabul.

Mr. Greene notes the reemergence of Rashid Dostum, who is eager to join the attack on the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He said, "It needs to be kept in mind that his frequent switching of sides in years past was a major factor in leading to the loss of the city to the Taleban by the Northern Alliance. Although at times he did not have perhaps enough money to fight the way he would have, he did have enough money to build himself a marble palace in the neighborhood of Mazar-e-Sharif."

Mr. Greene believes the king, at 87, offers some hope of reconciliation. At least, he is not unacceptable to any of the groups who could assemble in a grand council, known as a loya jirga, and establish a government. A degree of decentralization may be necessary in such a divided country, say observers, but there must be a strong central government devoted to peace and unity and fully backed by the international community.