The chaotic retreat by Taliban forces from Kabul, and indeed from most of northern Afghanistan, is a dramatic development that did not seem conceivable even a week ago. But the Northern Alliance's triumph does not, by itself, achieve the basic American objective of defeating the Taliban and destroying the terrorist organization al Qaida. That may require more difficult military operations against the Taliban in their southern stronghold, where the United States lacks a combined Afghan force like the Northern Alliance.
The difficulties will be compounded unless a broadly based government is swiftly installed in Kabul and neutral peacekeeping forces introduced. Indeed, reprisals reportedly carried out against Taliban supporters by out-of-control Northern Alliance fighters may undercut American efforts to weaken the Taliban by luring away their supporters.
The stunning events of recent days suggest that the Taliban are closer to military collapse than generally recognized. But if Taliban forces manage to regroup in the Pashtun-speaking parts of the country where they still command loyalty, they may be difficult to dislodge.
In turning its attention to the fluid situation in Kabul, the United States has to act with great care. Although the Northern Alliance and its president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, are recognized by some ethnic groups as the rightful leaders of Afghanistan, they are feared and hated by others. They controlled the city after the Communists fell in 1992 and carried out violent attacks on their enemies. The United States should step up its efforts in conjunction with the United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to assemble an interim governing authority in Kabul that reflects every ethnic, tribal or religious grouping in the country, leaving out no one with any significant power base.
In coming weeks, the outside powers that have taken an interest in Afghanistan must rapidly put together a multinational force that could establish security in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. This process has begun under the prompting of Russia, the United States and Afghanistan's six neighboring countries. Such a force should receive authorization by the United Nations Security Council and be composed of what Secretary of State Colin Powell calls "a coalition of the willing," led by troops from Islamic countries, such as Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
To prevent a repetition of past cycles of violent reprisals, the United States, Russia, India and other countries that have supported the Northern Alliance must exert pressure on its commanders to exercise restraint on the ground in Kabul and other areas it has seized. The chain of command is weak in some places, nonexistent in others. But the entire international community must make it clear that a bloodbath in Afghanistan will destroy any chances of bringing unity to the country.
Finally, the other urgent priority is to speed relief to Afghans in the country's mountains and deserts who have been suffering for years from war, drought and repression. Airlifts and truck convoys can bring food to these areas more easily because of the Northern Alliance's extraordinary victory in Kabul. Ultimately, saving the lives of the innocent in Afghanistan is the best way to save its stability and future peace.
Where are the voices of women in the war against terror? This question is not insignificant, given the role that women play in creating stable, healthy societies in the developing world. The Taliban regime's terrorist ideology requires that women be invisible in Afghanistan, contributing to that nation's overall deprivation. Any attempt to rebuild the country in the aftermath of the military campaign there must include the restoration of women's rights if Afghanistan is to be made truly whole.
A report published before the Sept. 11 attacks by Physicians for Human Rights found that Afghan men and women alike attributed much of their suffering to deliberate Taliban policies of discrimination against women. Where the Taliban rule is strictly enforced, women are not allowed to attend school, work, receive health care, or move freely about. This severely restricts their ability to contribute to the economic and social health of their families and communities.
In traditional cultures around the world the progress of women directly affects development. The United Nations has repeatedly found that in countries where women have access to education, infant mortality and birth rates fall, life expectancy and incomes rise, and the people enjoy a healthier environment, more political stability, and less warfare.
Rina Amiri, who left Afghanistan when she was a child in 1973, says it is no surprise that the Taliban regime's attack on women's rights has coincided with a growing extremism. ''When you shut out the women you don't leave voices that can be a moderating force,'' she said. ''It is the women who supply a stable, cohesive community. ... If the international community wants stability they have to empower the women as well.''
This week at the Kennedy School of Government, Amiri and other women from conflict areas around the world are meeting in a largely public colloquium designed to bring more women's voices into the debate. Brought together under the banner of ''Women Waging Peace,'' a project of Harvard's Women and Public Policy program, they come from Rwanda, Kosovo, Guatemala, Cambodia, and some 20 other countries. They bring their experiences -- often in the aftermath of war -- of solving refugee crises, establishing reconciliation commissions, drafting peace agreements, participating in new governments, and rebuilding their societies.
Although Afghanistan's grief is a complex web of conditions and is not solely the result of Taliban policies, they have certainly exacerbated problems of poverty, isolation, war, and drought. Still, even in the midst of terror and want, women in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries are doing remarkable work organizing for the future. Too often made invisible, they ought to be seen and heard.
St. Petersburg, Fla., Times
An Islamic-led peacekeeping force with U.N. authority offers the best hope for bringing order to Afghanistan once the Taliban is deposed.
U.S. officials never were under any illusion that Afghanistan's Northern Alliance was a collection of Robert E. Lee-style warrior-philosophers. For Washington, it was enough that the alliance was the enemy of the Taliban, which has brutalized the Afghan people with its bizarre edicts while harboring Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network. Still, this week's graphic footage of Northern Alliance forces murdering surrendering Taliban members in cold blood had to give Washington pause.
The Bush administration also had to be struck by the sudden collapse of the Taliban in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul. After weeks of sitting in place, the Northern Alliance launched an offensive that met curiously little resistance on the way to the capital. The Taliban's abject retreat gives even greater urgency to our government's efforts to put in place a broad-based peacekeeping force that can bring some semblance of order to Afghanistan. That job shouldn't be left to the Northern Alliance, which has neither the capacity nor the broad support to build a functioning government.
As Northern Alliance forces rolled into Kabul Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan "as soon as possible." A quick U.N. mobilization could serve several purposes. First, it could help to prevent further massacres among the rebels and Taliban supporters. Second, it could buy time for the development of a broader political coalition, including elements of the Northern Alliance and the dominant ethnic Pashtun, to govern Afghanistan in the long run. Finally, the presence of a Muslim-led peacekeeping force under the United Nations' auspices would blunt bin Laden's attempts to turn the war against terrorism into a battle between the United States and Islam.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf quickly volunteered to send troops into Afghanistan as a part of a U.N.-sponsored force under the terms outlined by Blair. It would be preferable, however, for such a force to be led by troops from Islamic nations, such as Turkey and Indonesia, without a direct interest in the composition of Afghanistan's next government. Pakistan, the Taliban's most important benefactor until recently, can play a more constructive role by limiting itself to non-military assistance to stabilize both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The Taliban's hasty retreat from power presents problems for the United States and our allies, but, after the terror of the past two months, they are relatively good problems to have. While the Northern Alliance troops don't make ideal liberators, any new Afghan government will be an improvement over the Taliban. Bin Laden and al Qaida have lost their cover, and the people of Kabul and other cities are celebrating. Men can shave. Women can go out in public places. Everyone can listen to music. That might not sound like much, but in Afghanistan, it is revolutionary.
The United States' overriding interest in Afghanistan is the establishment of a government that does not harbor terrorists. Beyond that, we can leave it to other governments and international institutions to deal with the details of building a coalition that is representative of Afghanistan's ethnic and political factions. By playing only a secondary role in that process, we can ease tensions in the Islamic world and turn our attention to broader efforts to control the threat of terrorism.
As Northern Alliance troops streamed into Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city, two images competed for the world's attention.
There were jubilant scenes of Afghan men shaving their beards, music playing in the streets and women walking alone, some without their Taliban-mandated burqas. All that spoke to liberation from the regime's strict Islamic rule in Kabul and in other cities that are falling to the opposition.
Then there were troubling photos of the execution of wounded prisoners, looting and other abuses by the Northern Alliance forces sweeping toward victory backed by U.S. airpower and commandos on the ground. In Mazar-i-Sharif, taken Friday by alliance forces, more than 100 Taliban fighters who attempted to hide in a school were executed by alliance troops.
And so there's likely to be debate: Have we supported a band of liberators, or a band of thugs? There are elements of both.
The United States, of course, doesn't command the Northern Alliance. It knew when it adopted the Afghan rebels as its proxy ground force that it wasn't dealing with Boy Scouts. It was dealing with fighters who carry the memories of decades and decades of violence and thoughts of revenge.
So it's important to remember that the combination of U.S. air power and Northern Alliance ground forces are rapidly freeing Afghans from a brutally repressive regime.
And it's important to move United Nations peacekeepers, preferably from Muslim nations like Turkey and Pakistan, in as fast as possible so liberation doesn't dissolve into bloody chaos.
The Northern Alliance took Kabul on Tuesday as Taliban forces fled the city. They are, indeed, liberators. The Taliban had banned music and televisions and ordered men to wear 4-inch beards. They have forbidden women to go to school or receive health care.
Freed of Taliban rule, men sang joyously and shaved their Taliban-mandated beards. Some families dug up TVs and VCRs they had hidden when the Taliban took power in 1996. The Taliban ruled by force and now they're being rousted.
This should ease the diplomatic effort to keep Muslim nations in the fold as forces try to vanquish al Qaida and take Osama bin Laden. It should also make it easier to get humanitarian supplies into the country where millions could face starvation, most of them in the north, where the drought has been most severe.
The U.S. mission has essentially two objectives: To send a message that governments that harbor terrorists will cease to govern, and to eliminate the terrorist organization that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
The first task has moved significantly closer to completion in recent days. The second task is still likely to be a long endeavor.
There is no guarantee, now that they've captured Kabul, that Northern Alliance soldiers will want to carry the fight to the pockets where al Qaida, and presumably bin Laden, are still holed up. In the wake of a victory, the strategy of the war may be about to change significantly.
But the capture of Kabul is a significant move toward both U.S. objectives, a victory that gives Americans reason to believe justice is coming in the attacks on New York and Washington.
Dallas Morning News
The Northern Alliance shouldn't win yet; we're not quite ready. Or more clearly, it's not ready. When the Taliban abandoned Kabul this week, Northern Alliance fighters reportedly executed some of the wounded left behind. This adds to the reports of the Northern Alliance killing of over 100 Taliban troops, mostly young recruits hiding in a school in Mazar-i-Sharif, on Saturday night. Afghanistan needs more than a few lessons in the Geneva Conventions.
The fall of Kabul is not the end of the Taliban. Its leaders and al Qaida are still at large. Other parts of Afghanistan, including the south, need to be controlled. The south is the home of the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, who make up much of the Taliban. Winter will slow the military campaign. That may be a blessing, reducing bloodshed while the diplomatic campaign to restructure the country takes better hold.
On Tuesday, the top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan called for a transnational government backed by a multinational peacekeeping force. A committee consisting of Afghanistan's six neighbors, Russia, and the United States met Monday under the chairmanship of the U.N. secretary-general and rightly reaffirmed its support for a political solution that reflected "a broad-based multi-ethnic, politically balanced, freely chosen Afghan administration."
The long-term vision is not to create a United States. As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a group of editorial writers last week, "We're going to try to set the stage for a government that's sensible ... a very loose central government with very little central authority."
An October meeting organized by the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, a Peshawar-based Taliban opposition group, drew about 1,000 leaders. It favored the return of exiled King Zahir Shah with a U.N. force from Islamic states restoring order. That might work if enough Pashtuns come into the fold, if the role of controversial Pakistani forces is limited, and if the present Afghan forces improve battlefield manners.
However, for a lasting peace, other concerns must be addressed.
The demographics of the country necessitate that talks include women (the majority) and younger people, not just the older male spiritual and tribal leaders.
The ex-king is 87 years old; an alternate interim leader may be needed.
The Saudis must be part of the solution. They support the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam that bred the Taliban and al Qaida.
Providing for a post-Taliban Afghanistan is very important. However, disaffection and the terrorism it breeds are not limited to one nation. Even if a stable solution is found for Afghanistan, the world must remember that the war against terrorism is not over.
Yesterday's precipitous exodus of Taliban forces from Afghanistan's capital of Kabul as the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance made startling gains is welcome news, but the repressive Islamist regime has yet to be defeated.
Moreover, Osama bin Laden, the renegade head of al Qaida, the international terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the East Coast, remains at large.
The Northern Alliance, buoyed by an intensive American and British bombing campaign that began Oct. 7, has made significant territorial gains and now controls the northern half of the country.
Success against the Taliban has been so rapid that Washington and London may have been caught off guard and are scrambling to organize a transitional government.
A transitional government would return some semblance of normalcy to Afghanistan, most likely with Muslim and non-Muslim peacekeeping troops to help keep the lid on rival ethnic factions until the country reinvents itself.
The Northern Alliance consists mainly of Uzbek and Tajik minorities, while the Taliban come from the Pashtun majority. It's critical that the Pashtuns are part of whatever government ultimately replaces the Taliban.
The sort of internecine fighting that created the opportunity for the Taliban to seize power in 1996 must be avoided at all costs.
Creating a transition government in Afghanistan is no mean task - indeed, it may be said that all recent Afghan governments have been transitional in a country ruled by "one Kalashnikov, one vote."
Afghan tribal leaders have urged a traditional "loya jurga" or council be held to discuss the framework for a transitional government, and a United Nations official has suggested that exiled King Zaher Shah, a Pashtun, chair the gathering as a "symbol of national unity." But we note that he was ousted nearly 30 years ago, and there hasn't been a huge kick and growl among Afghans to restore his throne.
Almost as soon as the Taliban fled Kabul, relieved residents began shaving beards, tossing turbans, shedding burkas and once again playing music. If anybody doubted that ordinary Afghans chafed under the Taliban's twisted interpretation of Islam, the spontaneous jubilation bears testimony to the true character of the people.
Another welcome development is that desperately needed food shipments to a starving populace have begun without irrational hindrance from the Taliban.
However, as important as cities may be for lines of communication and supply, we mustn't forget that it was in the countryside that mujahedeen fighters successfully waged a 10-year guerrilla war against the former Soviet Union. Pacifying the rugged hinterlands may take some doing.
Once the Taliban are toppled, the United States, Britain and other Western countries should not abandon Afghanistan or forget the huge debt we owe neighboring Muslim countries - especially Pakistan - for the risks they took in helping us. Aid and trade should flow in abundance to give their people a chance at a brighter future.
As Northern Alliance forces swept into Kabul with little resistance from the Taliban, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened a second key front -- at the United Nations.
Central to denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan is creation of a credible government and nursing a battered culture and economy back to health.
Powell is working to put Muslim nations at the forefront. Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia were recruited to put a secular but Muslim face on Afghanistan's political reconstruction.
After weeks of little military progress, the strategic bombers and cavalry charges of this improbable coalition forced the Taliban to abandon northern cities and flee to southern strongholds.
The next fighting will focus on the southern half of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding.
Armed defeat of the Taliban denies bin Laden a haven for his terrorist operations. But long-term stability will deny future terrorists a pool of recruits and a place to train.
The trouble is, lightning military progress complicates slower-paced political efforts. Five years ago, it was the Taliban who were cheered when they kicked the Northern Alliance out of Kabul. A thieving, corrupt regime was replaced by religious zealots. The world averted its eyes, and bin Laden thrived amid the chaos.
The United States is leery of its Northern Alliance allies even as they take town after town.
The Muslim holy period of Ramadan begins on Saturday, and, regrettably, the military campaign should continue. Let Muslims united against bin Laden help ensure the next Ramadan is celebrated in peace.
War is a cruel business with no respect for religion, as the Israelis learned when the Arab world attacked in 1973 on Yom Kippur.
The target of this war is Osama bin Laden. The target for peace is the rebuilding of a broken nation, Afghanistan.
(Compiled by United Press International.)
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