In the middle of war, after much debate, agreement was reached at Bonn for the establishment of a new interim government in Afghanistan. Will the country's many quarrelsome factions accept it? Answers vary widely, but it represents hope for peace in a war-torn country.
There are two possible scenarios for the new Afghan government, says Larry Goodson, professor of international studies at Bentley College and author of "Afghanistan's Endless War."
One is optimistic. "The Afghans realize this is their last chance. They also realize that there is a substantial amount of money out there that is being dangled in front of them for reconstruction and so on. And there are the efforts of [interior minister Yunus] Qanooni and [foreign minister] Abdullah Abdullah and people like that, the younger generation of less combat-oriented leaders, to make it work," Mr. Goodson says.
Then there is the pessimistic version. "There are too many factions that feel cheated by the process or at least are complaining about the process," he adds. "That is leaving aside all those people who signed on, but did so with mental reservations. The time honored Afghan approach to papering over differences is to agree in principle, but to walk away from the table to with a lot of mental reservations."
One who has walked away is Anwar Ahady, professor of political science at Providence College. He turned down a cabinet post among the 30 available for the interim government that will get to work in Kabul on December 22. He supported the agreement in general, but not the cabinet appointments. As a Pashtun, he felt the Tajiks and other members of the Northern Alliance were awarded too many seats.
He says negotiations were too rushed. "We were presented with the results and basically did not have much time to analyze or absorb all that material for purposes of decision making," Mr. Ahady says. "We were called at 4:45am in the morning to come and listen to the results, and by 8:00am we had to decide very quickly. At that time, I had serious problems about the composition of the government, and I thought the more responsible thing would not to be part of it."
But this is only a beginning, counters Ashraf Ghani, professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and an adviser to the United Nations on Afghanistan. A process is under way that leads to a loya jirga, a grand assembly that will include all shades of Afghan opinion. "The important issue is that all factions are brought within a political framework," Mr. Ghani says. "Ethnic distribution is more of a secondary issue than a primary issue at this moment, the reason being that this is the first step in a process that will be broadened to ensure as fair a representation as possible and that is the holding of a grand assembly within six months."
Some commanders or warlords say they will not cooperate. One of the most forceful, Rashid Dostum, warns the interim government not to come into the area he controls in the north.
That is a matter of bargaining, says Mr. Ghani. Each commander wants to get the best possible deal before he agrees to join the government. This is the way coalition politics is practiced. So do not be unduly alarmed.
A former U.S. diplomat who served in Afghanistan, Thomas Greene, is impressed with the agreement reached at Bonn. "They are going to base constitutional arrangements on the constitution of 1964, which is very good news because that constitution was adopted with virtual national unanimity in a period of tranquillity in Afghanistan," Mr. Greene says. "The king was on the throne, and basically, the royal family ceded power to a parliamentary democracy."
Conditions are obviously not the same today, says Mr. Greene, and the constitution is not acceptable in its entirety. But it points the way to perhaps another much needed period of tranquillity.
The aim of the interim Afghanistan ruling body, established at Bonn, is to keep the country's many factions together until a grand assembly provides a permanent government. The fear is the nation could revert to the strife of the early 1990's that led to the Taleban takeover. Making Afghanistan secure is basic to the success of the new government.
Warlords are once again behaving like warlords, says Larry Goodson. If this continues, Afghanistan will soon have the look of the early 1990's: checkpoints every few miles on the road as various groups extort money from travelers and sometimes take their lives. It will be government by gun. "There is most probably going to continue to be a certain amount of lawlessness and anarchy in some parts of the country, and probably relatively peaceful, stable conditions in other parts of the country, and not a lot that the titular leaders in Kabul can really do to influence it one way or the other in the short run," he cautions.
It is possible these warlords have learned their lesson, says Thomas Greene. They have much to lose, little to gain, by defying the new government. "The biggest danger would come from Dostum, the Uzbek leader, and Ismael Khan, the leader in Herat. But my hope is that both of these people, when tranquility returns to their home fiefs, will see such an advantage in it, if only from their own self-serving standpoint, that they will not do anything that will plunge the country into civil war again," Mr. Greene says.
Professor Ahady expects central authority to prevail over the warlords. "I think that government will gradually expand its authority to the rest of the country," he says, "and therefore, it would not have to deal immediately with Dostum and Ismael Khan and the others. There is enough international support for this government that would translate later on into pressure on all those warlords to fall in line."
Mr. Ahady and others say an international peacekeeping force is essential to keep wayward warlords under control as the new government gets under way. The United States has preferred to end the war before introducing such a force, but Richard Haas, policy planning director at the State Department, says one might be in place when the interim group starts to work in Kabul on December 22.
Larry Goodson says the United States should move faster in securing Afghanistan. "There seems to be a real reluctance in Washington to think much about nation building in Afghanistan and to think much about a U.S. presence beyond the body bags phase of this whole operation. I think the United States has to send the message that we have a clear understanding of what it will take to make Afghanistan a functioning state once again," he warns.
A failed state gives rise to terrorism, says Mr. Goodson. So Afghanistan must not fail again.
It will not be allowed to, says Mr. Haas. There will be no lack of U.S. resources or staying power.
Will that be welcome? Writing in The New York Times, Laili Helms, a former adviser to the Taleban foreign ministry, says even the remaining Taleban consider the United States an honest broker that can keep Afghanistan together.