Taliban resistance in northern Afghanistan has suddenly evaporated under a devastating air campaign. Our Northern Alliance ally of the moment has advanced through Mazar-e-Sharif and into Kabul. They marched into Kabul despite President Bush’s call for them to halt short of the capital. Reports of Northern Alliance killings of surrendering Taliban soldiers in Kabul show they may be little better than the Taliban. We and our allies must determine who comes after the Taliban, and the Northern Alliance may only be a part of it. Considerable thought must be given to how the next Afghan government is formed as an ally in the war against terrorism.
America’s fight is not yet over, even in Afghanistan. The Taliban has been driven out of key areas, but no surrender has been offered on their behalf. It is more than likely that they are simply fading southward to Kandahar, their main base of power. They may go back into the mountains to resume the guerrilla war they waged before taking power. Bin Laden is still at large, there or elsewhere. Can we leave Afghanistan before his account is settled? More importantly, can we leave without assuring ourselves that what follows won’t be a new and improved Taliban? Of course we can’t. We are in this for the long haul, as Mr. Bush has reminded us.
However, we are not, and should not, go into the nation-building business. It is tempting to agree to Pakistan’s suggestion that we hand the keys to Kabul to the United Nations and ask it to set about reconstructing Afghanistan. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s lobbying for that “solution” is getting louder by the day. But the United Nations can’t be taken seriously in the Middle East while it allows Syria to sit on its policy-making Security Council. Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism and home to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the terrorist group that assassinated an Israeli Cabinet minister only a few weeks ago. To put the United Nations in charge of forming Afghanistan’s next government is a supremely bad idea.
What is needed most is what we don’t have: a coalition of Islamic regimes that will be willing to take charge of nation-building in Afghanistan and that can be relied on to keep the terrorists out and not simply annex it as their own. Turkey which may be our most underappreciated ally has suggested something very much like this. Part of Mr. Bush’s plans for an American departure from Afghanistan should include a dedicated effort by the United States, in partnership with Turkey, to form just such a coalition and put it in Afghanistan to oversee the formation of the next government. If there needs to be a multinational peacekeeping force to keep the Taliban away and keep the Northern Alliance from becoming yet another problem, it should be a NATO force led by Turkey. We should urge every other responsible Muslim nation to join this coalition.
Whether bin Laden is taken alive or at all cannot determine when the Americans leave Afghanistan. The point at which we can declare that Afghanistan is no longer the source of violence threatening Americans is the point at which our job will be done. We have other fights to fight, and we will have to get on with them.