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"The essential thing to remember about the United Front," Parekh said, "is that it's a very loose and rather tenuous alliance. Even the different parties aren't necessarily integrated. They can sometimes operate independently of one another. And they're not an effective military as a result."
Parekh and others spent this summer interviewing refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their report, issued October 6, examined those commanders with the most sordid record of abuses, including looting, rape, and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. And it warned the United States not to negotiate with those commanders with the worst rap sheets: Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and senior officers allied with the late Massoud. Dostum was a leader in Najibullah's army, battling the mujahideen. He left Najibullah to start the Junbish, a militia of ethnic Uzbeks, which later took on the Taliban. With the Taliban came order, however harsh. Without the Taliban, many fear that the groups in the Northern Alliance might pick up the civil war where it left off. "In the absence of a collective enemy," Parekh said, "I think that's a real risk."
The current push is for an interim government that balances the Northern Alliance with tribal Pashtuns and moderate Taliban, and has the 87-year-old Pashtun king at its head. After Afghanistan's marathon of destruction, the king's 40-year rule looks like a golden age. Kabul was a relatively liberal place. Women attended Kabul University and became doctors. The king named a woman minister of health. Mayar remembers spotting him driving his car on Kabul's streets.
Mayar believes that by supporting the king, George W. Bush can correct his father's mistake. The United States, he said, ought to make sure that the postwar government is chosen not by Pakistan or Russia, or even the United States, but by Afghanistan. If the United States won the Cold War, then Afghanistan paid its heaviest price. Between 1.5 million and 2 million Afghans died resisting the Soviet Union.
"Two million Afghans died and the Berlin Wall fell," Mayar said, using his fist to pound out each sentence on his kitchen table. "The countries in Eastern Europe are free. The Russians vote. The Communist flag has come down. All this with the blood of Afghans."