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Can Afghans Maintain Stable Coalition?


After fourteen years of struggle, the Afghan mujahedeen have succeeded in toppling the Marxist regime, long supported by the former Soviet Union. A broad coalition of internal commanders and political leaders who organized the resistance from their sanctuaries in Pakistan have begun to assemble an interim administration.

Professor Sibghatullah Mojadidi, who is leader of the National Libration Front, has been elected to head the 50-member commission that would set up a transitional authority in the country and make arrangements for elections. The commission would be assisted by an advisory council that represents commanders of the resistance, intellectuals and ulema, the Islamic religious scholars.

While the fall of the Marxist regime has ended the most tragic chapter of the Afghan history during which more than a million people lost their lives and about 5 million became refugees, the future looks uncertain. The new leaders confront serious challenges to national unity in the face of separate groups controlling different parts of the country along ethnic, tribal and sectarian lines.

Now the question is: Will the mujahedeen parties, which have been fragmented along ethnic and religious lines, succeed in maintaining a stable coalition to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Marxist regime?

The conflict has changed the traditional social and political order of the country. The most important development is the emergence of ethnic identity. Non-Pushtun minority ethnic groups, such as Hazara, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek, have acquired a greater sense of empowerment by establishing autonomous centers of power.

The influence of the traditional authorities that mediated social conflicts, such as religious leaders and village and tribal chiefs, has declined. As some of them fled to Pakistan, the war has brought forth a new class of leaders: resistance commanders who have exercised political power in their respective areas of control quite independent of the former government in Kabul.

These are some of the new political realities which the Pushtun majority and traditional elites have to recognize. The important thing is that political fragmentation of Afghanistan along ethnic lines presents a serious challenge to national unity. Only a decentralized political order that grants autonomy to all the ethnic groups would pave the way toward a genuine national reconciliation.

No less threatening to stability are the political and personal differences among the mujahedeen resistance groups. With few exceptions, all the mujahedeen groups have fought independently. Their internal divisions and absence of democratic political institutions may complicate the process of maintaining a stable coalition.

Personal rivalries that prevented political unity during the war of resistance may exaserbate political conflicts. One manifestation of these rivalries was the eruption of armed conflict between the forces of commander Ahmad Shah Masood and the guerrillas loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar over the control of Kabul following the collapse of the communist regime. Even if a cease-fire is arranged through the persuasion of Pakistan or the United Nations, the bitterness between these two groups that have fought turf battles before may not disappear soon.

Their conflict also has the potential of transforming into an ethnic war between the Pushtuns, fearing loss of power, and the coalition of Uzbek and Tajik groups from the north who seem to have gained greater political influence in Kabul, which has been traditionally dominated by the Pushtun elite.

Another, and perhaps more serious, dimension of differences among the new Afghan leaders is varying interpretation of Islam as a political ideology and the establishment of an Islamic state.

The moderate scholars like Mr. Mojadidi, the new government leader, are opposed to the Islamist views of Mr. Hekmatyar. Mr. Mojadidi views Islam as a creative relationship with the local values which more or less conform to its central principles.

Under the influence of moderate leaders, an Islamic system in Afghanistan would combine Islamic principles, Afghan traditions and universal democratic values that are not repugnant to the Sharia, the fundamental Islamic law. The moderate party leaders have liberal political views. They accepted secular democrats, nationalists and resident elements of the old Afghan aristocracy in their parties during the civil war. With their political ascendancy in the transitional period, they may reach for a broader coalition of moderate resistance parties and secular groups to neutralize the power of radical Islamist leaders.

The most immediate task before the new administration is to re-establish the authority of the central government. The provincial centers are controlled by the coalitions of various mujahedeen commanders, defecting military leaders and tribal chiefs. Their allegiance to the transitional government would depend on how the power-sharing arrangements among the rival political parties are worked out in Kabul. There are fears that if the interests of the aspiring guerrilla leaders are not accommodated in the new power arrangements, they may form rival coalitions and start opposing the new government.

Another set of problems centers around economic reconstruction and rebuilding the country. Afghanistan has experienced one of the most brutal wars of contemporary history. The resettlement of refugees living in Iran and Pakistan and those dislocated within the country would require resources which are beyond the means of way stricken Afghanistan.

With end of the Cold War, inward-looking policies of the Western countries and their greater interest in rebuilding the economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Afghanistan may not receive the commitment of adequate foreign aid that it needs to rebuild.

The full extent of the devastation caused by the former Soviet Union and its proxies in Afghanistan has yet to be measured. The costs of environmental damage inflicted by the sustained bombing of the fertile valleys, destruction of the fragile irrigation system and deforestation as a counterinsurgency measure cannot be calculated in monetary terms. Scattering of millions of anti-personal mines along the rural routes and in the fields poses obstacles to the restoration of normal human and animal life in the country.

Against all odds and in the face of tremendous difficulties, the Afghans have finally defeated the forces that caused the tragedy. Although they are divided, and their rivalries run quite deep, they share a common interest in a unified and peaceful Afghanistan. Contrary to their portrayal as fanatics who see violence as the only means of setting their differences, Afghans have values, traditions and a political culture that may promote mutual accommodation.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais is a professor in the Southern Asian Institute at Columbia University. He has just completed a book tentatively titled "Divided Nation: Afghanistan's Uncertain Transition After the Fall of the Marxist Regime."

Afghanistan: From Coup to Rebel Victory

* April 1978 President Mohammad Daud is killed in a coup. The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan forms a pro-Soviet government led by Noor Mohammed Taraki.

* September 1979 Mr. Taraki is killed and his former deputy prime minister, Hafizullah Amin, takes over.

* December 1979 The Soviet Union begins wide-scale intervention in support of the Afghan government, sending the first of more than 100,000 troops to fight Muslim guerrillas. Mr. Amin is killed and is replaced by Babrak Karmal.

* June 1982 Indirect talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the base for most guerrilla groups, begin in Geneva under United Nations sponsorship.

* February 1986 Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, says withdrawal will come "in the nearest future."

* May 1986 Mr. Karmal resigns and is replaced by Najibullah, former head of the secret police.

* April 1988 Accords providing for Soviet withdrawal are signed in Geneva, but rebel attacks continue.

* February 1989 The Soviet Union completes withdrawal from Afghanistan.

* June 1990 In a move to distance himself from his Marxist past, Dr. Najibullah makes constitutional reforms.

* April 1991 After almost a decade of fighting, the guerrillas capture southern city of Khost.

* May 1991 The U.N. secretary general, Javier Perez de Cuellar, announces a peace plan.

* September 1991 The United States and the Soviet Union agree to end all military aid to the two sides in the civil war by end of the year.

* January 1992 Pakistan cuts off military aid to the Afghan rebels and endorses the United Nations peace initiative.

* March 18 President Najibullah offers to transfer power to interim government that would be established under the United Nations plan.

* April 10 The new U.N. secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, says warring parties have agreed to form a "pre-transition

council" that will hand over power to an interim government.

* April 16 President Najibullah is ousted from power and goes into hiding. Rebel factions begin converging on the capital.

* April 18 With the United Nations' peace plan overtaken by events, leaders of 10 Afghan rebel factions start negotiating in Peshawar, Pakistan, on makeup of a new interim government.

* April 20 Guerrillas expand control over key Afghan towns. The U.N. special envoy, Benon Sevan, acknowledges that his plan for a neutral interim government has been derailed and accepts possibility of a governing council led by guerrilla factions.

* April 25 Political leaders of 10 major rebel factions agree on composition of interim Afghan government. Hours later Kabul falls to the rebels, who take over government ministries and installations.

* April 29 New Islamic government meets in Kabul for the first time under President Sibgatullah Mojadidi. Fighting continues with rival rebel groups.

/# Sources: New York Times, Reuter

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