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Taleban Collapse Leaves Power Vacuum - 2001-11-17

The sudden collapse of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has created a power vacuum in that country. After five years of strict rule by the Islamic militia, various factions are moving in to take power in cities and provinces. There are fears that Afghan political infighting could jeopardize U.S.-led efforts to wipe out the al-Qaida terrorist network.

A new drama is taking place in Afghanistan to replace the old. But the players - many of whom are familiar, others who are new faces - have no script, which is leading to a great deal of political improvisation.

There are fears that the departure of the Taleban is resurrecting old ethnic, political, and tribal rivalries. A political analyst and former Pakistani diplomat, Hussain Haqqani, says those Afghan power struggles could hobble the U.S.-led anti-terrorist effort. "Of course, throughout all this, the U.S. has another dimension to look after, which is the elimination of the terrorist network. And if the political bickering enables the terrorist network to find cover, then that will be really unfortunate," he says.

Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani is a former mujahedin commander who has been trying to piece together some kind of mechanism to choose a new, broad-based Afghan government.

He, too, fears that the effort to wipe out Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorist network will be hampered by the political squabbling.

The Northern Alliance is made up primarily of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks and is therefore not popular with Pashtuns, who are the predominant ethnic group in Afghanistan. But the Northern Alliance has taken Kabul on its own.

Mr. Haqqani says that is just as it was nine years ago, when the Afghan rebels, or mujahedin, ousted the communist government, but then fell into civil war, largely along ethnic lines.

Mr. Gailani, a Pashtun, says under current conditions, new fighting is bound to erupt. He says there will be clashes if the Northern Alliance whom he blames for the previous civil war, keeps control of Kabul.

The United Nations is scrambling to help find a political solution for a post-Taleban Afghanistan, and Mr. Gailani appeals to the international community for help. But Mr. Haqqani says time is quickly running out. "The political track has to move very fast. And if there is no solution in sight, then I think a multilateral peace force needs to be inside Afghanistan very, very soon, so that the real task of taking on al-Qaida can be undertaken even without a settlement of the future of Afghanistan right away," he says.

Meanwhile, the man who caused the United States to become involved in Afghanistan in the first place, Osama bin Laden, remains at large.