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Who Will Govern Postwar Afghanistan? - 2001-11-18

With Taleban forces in retreat and disarray, plans are hastily being made for a post war government in Afghanistan. But satisfying all the opposition groups is a complex task, already complicated by the Northern Alliance's swift takeover of Kabul.

Could this be 1992 all over again? That is the question that is being asked as the Taleban resistance crumbles. There are fears the opposition forces will once again fall out and start fighting among themselves, which led to widespread death and destruction and the Taleban takeover.

The groups making up the Northern Alliance seized Kabul sooner than expected. Now they are there, they are not welcoming others to share power. They say there is no need for peacekeepers. The United Nations can serve as an observer.

The United Nations, to the contrary, wants to set up a broad-based government in Kabul as soon as possible. Some Afghan commanders, like Hamid Karzai, agree.

"I would very much want to continue to work for a loya jirga, which is a representative body of the Afghan people, to determine the future settlement of Afghanistan," he says. " In other words, I want the Afghan people to decide their future. Otherwise war and misery will continue forever, and nobody wants that."

How to work out representation for all the groups in the new government is a difficult matter. Top Russian officials have called for a body that reflects ethnic percentages of the population.

Afghan-American writer Nasir Shansab suggests a different approach. Avoid ethnic quarrels by putting a group of technocrats or skilled professionals in charge. They could be recruited from Afghans from around the world who have no ties to inside factions.

"They would be a neutral force," he says. "They would take over the government in Kabul with the United Nations, try to rebuild the institutions, maybe try to propose and write a constitution for Afghanistan and prepare the ground for elections."

Backed by international forces, the technocrats would work for about a year, says Mr. Shansab. They would disband when elections are held for a permanent government.

"So why not bring in a group that has no military force of its own, that has no power?" he asks." They would have to confirm in advance that after the process is over, they would leave. They would not participate in the future government."

Much depends on the cooperation of other nations with an interest in Afghanistan. They must exercise restraint among themselves, says Mr. Karzai, and ask the same of Afghans.

"The role of the international community, especially of the United States and the Europeans and the United Nations, including our neighbors in the region is extremely important. They must play very tough with whoever tries to grab power by force," he says.

Abdul Samad Hamed, who served as deputy prime minister under former King Zahir Shah, is a Pashtun who might return to a post war government. He says it is not a matter of personal ambition. Afghanistan comes first.

And, he urges - cast the widest possible net for the new government.

"From every aspect, all possibilities should be considered," he says. "And then from all the proposals, put together something that will give people the satisfaction of knowing they have contributed to Afghanistan's salvation."

Mr. Hamed and many other Afghans say they are ready to heal divisions and create a nation acceptable to all.