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Afghans Uncertain About Country's Future - 2001-11-26

Two weeks ago, the Taleban abandoned Kabul. The suddenness of the withdrawal and the quick peaceful takeover of the city by Northern Alliance forces surprised and pleased most residents of the city who had feared a bloody street fight for control of Afghanistan's capital. Now, two weeks later, most residents of the city say they are glad the Taleban is gone, but they also say they remember the vicious battles for control of various parts of the city that took place in the early 1990s and they fear for the future.

Winter has descending on Kabul and Nic Mohammed is busy making stoves. Mr. Mohammed lives and works in south Kabul, just across from the Iqbal Cinema, in a once-pleasant neighborhood that has now been largely reduced to rubble.

His shop stands on what was once the front line between the forces of General Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatayar, two Afghan warlords who fought for control of South Kabul in the early 1990s. Those battles ended when the Taleban seized Kabul in 1996, and imposed a harsh order on the once cosmopolitan capital. Nic Mohammed says he is glad the Taleban is gone but he is also afraid that fighting could return to his neighborhood.

Nic Mohammed says he hopes Afghanistan's exiled King Zahir Shah returns to Kabul and brings a good government with him. He says he is worried that some of the factions that make up the Northern Alliance will start fighting again. He says lots of people are armed and they are ready to fight.

Northern Alliance leaders are meeting this week with other Afghan political factions outside of Bonn, Germany in a U.N.-brokered conference. Participants say they hope to reach agreement on an interim government for Afghanistan and prevent the sort of fighting that killed an estimated 50,000 people in Kabul in the early 1990s.

While Nic Mohammed is worried that factions of the Northern Alliance might start fighting again, one of his neighbors, Nasir Pamir, says he has other concerns. Nasir says some members of the Taleban have returned to south Kabul.

Nasir Pamir says some former Taleban have simply shaved their beards, gotten rid of their turbans and joined Northern Alliance forces. He says several such men harassed him recently saying his beard was too short.

There is growing unease in south Kabul. Unease about political infighting within the Northern Alliance, and unease about a growing lack of law and order. Nasrullah Stanakzai is a professor of law at Kabul University. He says Afghans will gladly give up their newly won freedom for order if violence spirals out of control

Nasrullah Stanakzai says Afghans would prefer going back to living under the Taleban than face the violence they endured when rival factions fought for control of Kabul.

Nasrullah Stanakzai says now that the Taleban has been gone for two weeks Afghanistan's new political leaders must work quickly to reconcile their political differences. If they do not, he warns Afghans like those in south Kabul may face yet more fighting after more than two decades of war and conflict.