Tuesday, November 13, 2001

As the American strikes on the Taliban’s military infrastructure continue, the political effort to replace

the Taliban with a government more favorable to the Afghans and their neighbors enters a delicate phase. Many Afghans want a quick end to the bombing, and look hopefully to the collapse of the Taliban. They look to the former Afghan King Zaher Shah, now living in exile in Italy, to lead their country out of this political morass.

From his home-in-exile in Rome, King Zaher Shah and his advisers welcome a steady stream of visitors delegates from all segments of Afghan society, including former mujahideen leaders, heads of various tribes and educated Afghans from the United States and Europe.

As a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Afghanistan, I had a recent opportunity while in Rome to meet and talk with key people in the king’s retinue. In our talks, they outlined the king’s plans for a post-Taliban Afghanistan. And while I, like most Afghans, look forward to the king’s return to Afghanistan, and support his plan for the future of the country, I found myself disagreeing with their views on how the new government of Afghanistan should be formed.

The phrase “broad-based government” was frequently used to characterize the king’s current thinking about the future government of Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the Taliban collapse, the king envisions a convening of an emergency Loya Jerga, a council of elders and tribal leaders inside Afghanistan. This Jerga would appoint the head of state, which would, in turn, form a government under the United Nations auspice.

It is my belief as well as the belief of many others familiar with the history of Afghanistan that the formation of a “broad-based government” will only serve to re-ignite the conflict.

For many Afghans, memories are still fresh of the anarchy that followed the withdrawal of Russian troops in the early ‘90s. Some argue erroneously that the anarchy was the result of the political vacuum left at the end of the war.

Shortly after the collapse of the Russian-backed communist government in 1991, a coalition of the mujahideen groups took over. Burhanudeen Rabani, the North Alliance leader, then the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami Party, became president. His government was broad-based. The result was chaos. During his four years in office, his power never extended beyond the capital city of Kabul. Leaders of different groups and warlords fought amongst themselves to gain control of Kabul. They fired rockets indiscriminately on Kabul citizens, killing thousands. Looting and raping became rampant. And citizens were subject to checkpoints to collect illegal tax and extort ransom.

Today, Mr. Rabani, with the backing of Russia’s President Putin, claims he is the president of Afghanistan and demands that he be part of the new broad-based government. But including Mr. Rabani or his appointee in the future government will certainly be a recipe for disaster.

First, the groups that wish to be included in the government are not the true representatives of the people they claim to represent. They are only loosely connected via personal, regional, religious, or ethnic ties. Second, it will open a window of opportunity for several notorious groups like, Hizb-I-Islami and Hizb-I-Wahdat who are accused of committing atrocities to follow suit. Third, most of the former mujahideen groups including Mr. Rabani’s party are fundamentalists and have their own vision of Islamic government to impose on the citizens. Fourth, the broad-based government would also include some element of “moderate” Taliban. The Taliban, however, are not moderate, and any compromise will prove disastrous.

Post-Taliban Afghanistan needs educated technocrats to build their country, not a tribal leader as education minister or an ex-mujahideen leader as reconstruction minister.

To some Afghans I spoke with, a broad-based government is the equivalent of political amnesty for those groups, who in the past have committed atrocities. They are abhorred by the majority of Afghans. The Taliban came to power on the premise of purging the county from those so-called ex-mujahideen leaders who now want to be part of the new government. It is the Afghan neighbors like Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, who insist on the broad-based government for their own interest. During the past two decades of civil war, neighboring countries have harbored some Afghan groups to ensure their own political agenda. It is equally important that the American officials and the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan drop their support of a broad-based government and instead advocate a transition government. This government would be comprised of skilled Afghans who are able to draw up a new constitution and rebuild their homeland.

The alternative to a broad-based government is clear: a transitional government of technocrats who have the expertise to build this nation from the ground up. When law and order are restored under U.N. peacekeeping forces, a constitution can be drawn up similar to that of 1964 signed by King Zaher. This constitution will include and protect all regardless of ethnic, regional, and religious background.

Wahab Raof Ghafary, a graduate of an Afghan law school, lives in San Diego.

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