Even as bombs still fall in Central Asia, various governments, factions and the U.N. are feverishly seeking a generally accepted formula for the establishment of a new Afghan government before a single faction – the Northern Alliance – establishes de facto control over the entire nation.
Recent events in another area of international intervention – Kosovo – indicates that reorganizing Afghanistan will be a lengthy, frustrating and possibly dangerous project.
According to a recent report in the Italian news daily Corriere della Sera, while the Northern Alliance is beginning to function as a central government, local Afghan warlords are dividing strips of the countryside into personal fiefdoms.
The call for a “Loya Jirga” – grand council of elders and religious leaders – is still heard, but the prospects for the gathering is fading. If held, the grand council would use the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, as a rallying point for all tribes and factions.
During his reign from 1933 to 1973, Zahir Shah, who was born in 1914, developed a reputation for being progressive and pro-Western.
According to the report, both Russia and Iran are racing each other to open embassies in Kabul, the Afghan capital, thereby recognizing, in effect, the Northern Alliance as the country’s legitimate government.
The Northern Alliance is led by the former president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was overthrown by Taliban forces in 1996. The Northern Alliance has received Russian backing for years, and one of its chief commanders, Gen. Rashid Dostum, at one time fought for the Soviet-backed Afghan communist government.
In addition to sending an ambassador to the Northern Alliance in Kabul, Iran is also cooperating with Ismail Khan in his capture of Herat, a city where he once ruled as governor.
Corriere della Sera reports what may be a sign of trouble for all of Afghanistan – as soon as Herat fell, shooting erupted between factions in Khan’s army.
Russia, according to the report, opposes the use in Afghanistan of an international force that would police any international agreement on how that nation is to be governed.
A similar arrangement regarding the use of international peacekeepers is currently being employed in Kosovo.
The United Nations Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, recently achieved one of its stated goals during its rule of Kosovo, a region which is nominally part of the Federation of Yugoslavia. UNMIK was able to hold elections in a relatively calm atmosphere in the strife-torn region.
A significant problem for UNMIK has arisen because of the election, however. The vote clearly demonstrates the desire of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo to declare their independence from Yugoslavia. The wishes of the “Kosovars,” however, run counter to U.N. resolution 1244; the European Union unanimously opposes the idea; and the Yugoslav government would consider Kosovo’s declaration of independence to be an act of rebellion.
Even so, the Albanian majority are quite determined.
According to a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “All of the parties representing the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority want independence.” It cited a popular news daily in Prishtina in Kosovo that ran a headline after the election proclaiming, “Now, toward statehood for Kosovo!”
The winner of the race for president of Kosovo, with some 50 percent of the vote, was Ibrahim Rugova, usually identified in the West as a “moderate.” Rugova’s moderation, however, is meant for the West, not for those voting for him.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cited an interview with an unnamed European Union diplomat who declared that “Rugova has two languages – one for local consumption and the other for the international community,” while Rugova’s press outlet, Bota Sot, issues statements that are “more rabid than the radicals.”
“We will have to make clear to Rugova that he has to make sure the first thing parliament does is not to declare independence,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s source observed.
An independent Kosovo will also be a local military power according to Gen. Agim Ceku, leader of Kosovo’s military force and former member of the rebel UCK that fought against the Yugoslav government and for Kosovo independence.
Ceku is quoted in a Corriere della Sera article as declaring: “It is not enough for Kosovo to be independent; it must have its own army.”
The kind of army an independent Kosovo would possess would be a matter of great interest to other nations in the region, especially in view of recent indications that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network was involved in the rebel movements in the Balkans – including Kosovo.