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Post-Taleban Era Could Involve Bitter Power Struggles - 2001-10-10

Most analysts believe the rise of the Taleban was due in large part to citizen disgust with the fighting between former rebel groups that continued after the communist government fell in 1992. The stage may be set for more bitter power struggles in Afghanistan in the vacuum left by the Taleban's departure. Analysts say the ethnic, tribal, political, and even personal disputes that have long driven Afghan politics, often to the point of open warfare, could again erupt in the vacuum left by the Taleban's ouster. Some old figures from the days of civil war may re-emerge to lay some claim to power - many of whom have a human rights record little better than the Taleban.

In 1989, when the communists were still in power in Kabul, Pakistan formed an alliance of exile rebel groups - collectively known as "mujahedin," or holy warriors, into a potential future administration called the Afghan Interim Government.

But the AIG, as it came to be known, was a disaster. Many of its seven factions hated each other, and in some cases spent as much time fighting each other as they did the communist forces. The frayed alliance quickly dissolved when President Najibullah's communist government fell to the rebels in 1992. The Mujahedin turned their guns on each other within hours of entering Kabul and the fighting raged until the advent of the Taleban in 1996.

Not only do the former Mujahedin have an unsuccessful record of cooperation, but they have also been accused of human rights violations in areas under their control. The international rights organization Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year that all the Afghan factions have engaged in practices such as rape, summary executions, the arbitrary arrest and disappearance of opponents, and torture.

Now the fighting forces arrayed against the Taleban have again banded together into a loose coalition of former Mujahedin commanders known as the Northern Alliance. Just as the Mujahedin's only common ground was hatred of the communists, the new alliance is bound together only by common opposition to the Taleban.

Teresita Schaffer, former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, says the situation is not helped by neighboring Pakistan.

"Power sharing is what these guys tried to do in the days after Najibullah fell, and, as you recall, this was not a howling success," she said. "And Pakistan is not going to give up on its desire to have a friendly government next door in Afghanistan. And that is where you could also have some significant trouble."

There has been considerable talk of a post-Taleban interim government, perhaps with former king Zahir Shah as the figurehead. But Ms. Schaffer says a peaceful transition is unlikely once the jockeying for power starts.

"Now that may be a little bit too orderly to match the Afghan reality, which, as you know, favors internecine warfare over unity any day of the week," she said. "And there are people who have put in even more time looking at Afghanistan than I have who believe that ultimately there is going to be a fair amount of fighting and somebody is going to have to come out on top from that - an unattractive choice."

But Barnett Rubin, one of the most renowned scholars on Afghan affairs, believes the competing Afghan factions will reach some kind of deal.

"Compromise is a very major word in the Afghan political lexicon," he said. "Anyone who knows the political culture of Afghanistan knows that most Afghans are extremely pragmatic and they adopt various ideological stances in accord with their interests."

But analysts can not say for certain whether the ouster of the Taleban will finally bring peace to Afghanistan - or another bloody round of factional fighting.