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Taleban Defections to Alliance Result in Fragile Peace Near Kabul - 2001-11-25


The United Nations is planning to bring leaders of some of Afghanistan's ethnic and political factions to Bonn, Germany, next Tuesday to help form an interim government for Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the fighting between Taleban elements and Northern Alliance forces continues. Soldiers from both sides, while making war, are talking reconciliation.

A sleepy mud brick town called Maidan-Shahr 35 kilometers southwest of Kabul is quiet now after days of fighting between opposition Northern Alliance troops and retreating Taleban soldiers.

The fighting began when Northern Alliance soldiers tried to advance on a pocket of Taleban fighters who have not yet left the area. Despite a Taleban counterattack, Northern Alliance commanders say they have achieved their objective in Maidan-Shahr because they convinced a large numbers of fighters to defect.

Now, several of the defectors stand guard on the front lines as Alliance fighters. One of the men, a Pashtun named Gul Mohammed says he switched sides because he believes Northern Alliance leaders will not try and hang on to power in Kabul and will allow a formation of a broad-based government.

Gul Mohammed says his biggest concern is that Pashtuns will be excluded from power. He says if that happens the fighting in Maidan-Shahr will start again.

But he also says he believes Northern Alliance made up largely of ethnic Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara minorities appear to be serious about including the Pashtun in government.

Alliance leaders say Pashtun's are participating and even former Taleban leaders are welcome, but the Taleban is not.

Gul Mohammed's friend Sawar Khan also defected to the Northern Alliance. He says he hopes for reconciliation in Afghanistan, but he does not trust the Northern Alliance.

Sawar Khan says, so far, there is peace in towns the Northern Alliance controls, but he's not sure it will last.

Nearby, the mood is tense on a road where local Taleban and Northern Alliance commanders negotiated the terms of the cease-fire.

Amid smiles, commanders ended their meetings declaring that both sides will work together to bring peace to Afghanistan.

But a drive through the rolling hills behind Maidan-Shahr shows how fragile that peace and good-will actually is. Northern Alliance trucks carrying heavy machine guns and 40-millimeter grenade launchers patrolled the roads.

Alliance soldiers conduct their patrols despite the landmines that litter the area. In a ditch on the side of the road a military vehicle recently hit by a rocket propelled grenade, smolders, a reminder of how tenuous peace in Afghanistan can be.