Ravam Farhadi, the Northern Alliance ambassador at the United Nations, said today that deciding who should take over in Afghanistan “is not the American business.”
The U.S. has been quietly pushing to keep the Northern Alliance from taking Kabul for fear that would unleash a bloody massacre. Farhadi said American leaders were wrong on that point. “This is the fault of the State Department, which always follows Pakistani propaganda,” and the Pakistanis hate the Northern Alliance, he said. “All of the Arab fighters who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban came from Pakistani intelligence. If we take power in Afghanistan, it would be under the UN. If the U.S. can attack the Taliban and Kill Supreme Leader Omar or two or three other important persons, the Taliban is finished.”
According to Barnett Rubin, the director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation and the pre-eminent independent American expert on Afghanistan, any U.S. plans to annoint a leader would alienate Afghans. “If we start naming the individual or individuals who would lead a postwar Afghanistan arrangement,” Rubin said, “Afghans would immediately say that there is a conspiracy being hatched behind their backs.”
But Rubin also said the Northern Alliance should not be allowed to capture Kabul.
Their comments come just days after Ismail Khan, a legendary Afghan war hero, returned to the Herat area of northwest Afghanistan and quickly began to re-establish his once formidable power base by taking control of a string of villages and small towns from the Taliban, according to well-informed Afghan sources. Khan is known for having rebuilt infrastructure, including roads and schools, and for his willingness to offer education to women.
Meanwhile, with the U.S. running a psy-ops—psychological operations—campaign to win over Taliban leaders and conscripts with promises of jobs and cash. The idea is to win their loyalty without causing them to physically leave the ranks. That way, they’ll be in place to support the U.S.-sponsored provisional government.
Washington has been trying find some way of cobbling together a provisional government that would include groups capable of moderating the hard-line northern fighters. Washington worries that the Northern Alliance would be overly independent and push its own agenda, getting too close to the Russians, Iran, and India. Most of all, the U.S. frets about antagonizing its edgy ally Pakistan, which detests the Northern Alliance.
Khan’s re-emergence eases pressure on U.S. hopes that the elderly former Afghan king Zahir Shah—long holed up in Rome—could ride herd over the country’s many factions. Shah has come to seem less and less capable of that, raising the specter of American troops having to remain on the ground in an extended post-Taliban peacekeeping mission.
A former army captain, Khan began fighting the Soviets in 1979. He became a noted mujahideen warlord, then declared himself emir of Herat in 1992. The area had a reasonably peaceful existence until the Taliban took it over in 1995 and Khan fled to Iran. He then returned to battle the Taliban, was captured, and escaped. Now he’s back, aiming to be a player in the new Afghanistan.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2001