The ink had not even dried on the interim accord signed in Bonn on December 5 when various Afghan factions had denounced it as a foreign imposition that could not bring lasting peace to Afghanistan. The accord was cobbled together after nine days of intense negotations under US threats, delivered through the UN, and promises of financial aid that may not materialize. The arrangement is expected to last for six months, during which time a Loya Jirga (grand assembly of tribal elders) must be convened to agree on a two-year transitional administration. The 30-member council will be headed by Hamid Karzai, chosen because he is a Pashtoon from the southern Popalzai tribe and acceptable to the US, whose forces were involved in the campaign against Qandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual base and capital. The city and province of Qandahar, as well as the adjoining provinces of Helmand and Zabul, were handed over to a tribal shura on December 7, thus signalling the formal end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
The Uzbek warlord Abdul-Rashid Dostum, who is based in Mazaar-i Shareef, was one of the first to condemn the accord as unfair and unrepresentative of the Afghan people, because with three posts the Uzbeks had not been given adequate representation in the interim council. Others, such as former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had returned to Kabul on November 17 in hopes of retaining the top slot, were equally critical. He had in fact held the accord back by refusing to endorse a list of 120 members to the council. He insisted on a much smaller council, of between 12-25 members, which he hoped to head. Ultimately he was left out of the arrangement by a new generation of more ambitious young men in the Northern Alliance who are willing to sell themselves to the US.
While dishing out cash to buy tribal loyalty in the military campaign against the Taliban, there are already indications that, now that the Taliban have gone, Washington expects others to carry the major burden of financial support. Richard Haas, the American special coordinator for Afghanistan, told the senate foreign relations committee on December 7 that the US should not get involved in “intrusive nation building,” and that the rest of the world should pay “the bulk” of the money needed to rebuild Afghanistan. “There is every good reason in the world why the bulk of the resources ought to come from other countries” because the US had done the “lion’s share of the work” in the first stage of the campaign by defeating the Taliban and targeting Usama bin Ladin. He also expressed scepticism over estimates by some UN and NGO officials that US$10 billion or more must be made immediately available for Afghanistan’s reconstruction drive. This would surely come as a great disappointment to those, not least members of the proposed interim council, who were led to believe that billions would pour into Afghanistan after they had helped to remove the Taliban from power.
The interim council, which will also have two women, will take over on December 22. Most Afghans see this as a US-imposed administration. The Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance has been given the lion’s share of seats (19 altogether, 11 to Tajiks, 5 to Hazaras and 3 to Uzbeks) compared to only eight for the majority Pashtoon tribes. There will be three seats for other groups. This patchwork, while seemingly reasonably representative, is highly unlikely to work, especially when the Northern Alliance controls the three most powerful portfolios: defence, interior and foreign affairs, posts that they occupied under the Rabbani regime as well. Opponents of the accord have already denounced Karzai as an American stooge, predicting that he will be a figurehead chief easily manipulated by the powerful Tajik trio: interior minister Yunus Qanooni, defence minister Fahim, and foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
There are, however, differences even among the Tajiks. Northern Alliance chief Burhanuddin Rabbani and commander Ismail Khan in Herat have called for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Another former Afghan president, Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, urged the new Afghan leaders to make room for “moderate” Taliban in the future government. While Pir Syed Ahmed Gilani, a Pashtoon and head of the Islamic National Front of Afghanistan, who is allied to former king Zahir Shah, said in Islamabad on December 6: “although the new head of government, Hamid Karzai, is a popular Pashtoon leader, still, no one person can do it alone, the whole team needs to play a collective role in ensuring peace in Afghanistan.” Pir Gilani said that as a result of the Bonn agreement almost all the old faces had re-emerged. He criticized the selection of ministers, saying all the slots were assigned to those who were ministers in the Rabbani regime, while those who had waged jihad against the Soviet occupation forces were ignored. Gilani, however, hoped the UN would constitute a committee to form a Loya Jirga to settle the issues which remained unresolved at Bonn.
Others were less circumspect. “The Bonn accord has ignored the ground realities and violated merit. Hamid Karzai did not deserve to be appointed prime minister in the interim setup,” said a former commander. Who should have been appointed instead was not immediately clear, but enough voices have been raised in favour of including some “moderate” Taliban in a future set-up. This is likely to pit the Northern Alliance against the Pashtoon tribes, the latter already upset about the manner in which power was wrested from their hands to serve US interests.
There is also great disquiet about the massacre that was perpetrated by Northern Alliance forces in Qala-i Jhangi near Mazaar-i Shareef during November 25-29. It is estimated that between 500 and 600 Taliban supporters, mostly Arabs, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and Chechens, who had surrendered, were butchered in cold blood, many of them with their hands tied behind their backs. US and British special forces also participated in the massacre, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. When questioned about the massacre and American participation in it, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed it, saying that in war people do get killed. Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, however, disagreed with this assessment. Speaking in Helsinki on November 30, she called for an inquiry into the massacre and asked why there were no survivors after the fighters had surrendered. American warplanes were called in to bomb the fortress after one Mike Spann, a CIA operative, was killed while interrogating the prisoners. Another CIA agent, known only as “Dave”, managed to escape and called in US bombers from bases in Uzbekistan. After every prisoner was killed, Northern Alliance soldiers stripped the bodies of boots, weapons and even gold tooth fillings.
The justification for the massacre was provided by Rumsfeld himself, who had repeatedly stressed on US television that America was “not inclined to negotiate surrenders” and that he hoped al-Qaida forces [would “either be killed or taken prisoner.” When they were taken prisoner they were butchered in the presence of and with the involvement of US forces. A 1977 protocol to the Geneva Conventions makes it illegal “to order that there shall be no survivors,” according to Mary Robinson. But obviously such rules are not being respected.
The accord will work as long as there is money available to bribe the various factions to keep them happy. Once the money is gone, fighting will resume among the disparate groups. The biggest gangsters and mass murderers will re-emerge to continue to terrorise the hapless Afghan people, who have been pawns in the hands of marauding thieves and their foreign backers for more than 20 years. It is a brave soul who will risk predicting peace for Afghanistan in the near future.
Meanwhile millions of Afghans will continue to struggle to survive in the squalid refugee-camps of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.