ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The leaders of the Northern Alliance the people who seized Kabul this week are a loose collection of warlords, traitors, religious figures, intellectuals and former rivals who are experienced at grabbing their own fiefdoms at the point of a gun.
A who’s who of the Northern Alliance includes:
Abdullah Abdullah: Perhaps the most familiar face to international audiences, Mr. Abdullah has offered an urbane, sensitive and centrist voice during his endless news conferences and talk-show appearances as the Northern Alliance’s foreign minister.
Mr. Abdullah is also a member of Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun tribe, a valuable ethnic card that should guarantee him a slot in any new government.
Abdul Rashid Dostum: He is a brutal, burly, minority ethnic Uzbek militia leader and a trigger-happy opportunist who is looked upon with suspicion by rival commanders.
The Soviet Union trained and used him to kill anti-communists in the north during Moscow’s 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan. He thanked them for their guns, ammunition and MiG warplanes by switching sides and helping to topple Soviet-installed President Najibullah in 1992.
After elevating his former enemies the U.S.-backed mujahideen guerrillas he tried to set himself up in Mazar-e-Sharif but had to flee the country when the Taliban came. He eventually joined the Northern Alliance and acquired tanks and other weapons from Moscow.
The secular general, 47, now is expected to remain in Mazar-e-Sharif and try to reimpose his rule in the surrounding territory, no matter who comes to power in Kabul. International human rights organizations and others blame Gen. Dostum’s Uzbeks for war crimes committed over the past 20 years.
Burhanuddin Rabbani: A Kabul University lecturer in 1,300-year-old Islamic shariah law, Mr. Rabbani tries to cast a spiritual, judgmental image. But his attempt to remain president of Afghanistan during the Northern Alliance’s atrocity-stained 1992-96 rule, and complaints that he discriminated against Pashtuns, displeased many would-be allies.
Today, Mr. Rabbani, 61, still is recognized by the United Nations as president of Afghanistan, and he controls most of the country’s embassies. Mr. Rabbani spent the past few years based in Tajikistan, cozying up to Russia and Iran while appearing every once in a while in an isolated capital-in-exile in northern Afghanistan to remind Afghans of his rule.
He now plans to supervise Kabul with a watchful eye on whoever tries to form a new government. Because he is a Tajik, he is not respected by many Pashtuns, and he may not be enthusiastic about stepping down from the pinnacle of power.
Ismail Khan: Considered by many as a comparative good guy, he split from the Northern Alliance and stayed out of Kabul during their murderous regime. Instead, he ran the far northwest city of Herat with a relatively easy hand, offering liberation to females and education to children.
Like other turncoats, Mr. Khan fought for the communists but ditched them just before the Soviets invaded. He joined the U.S.-backed mujahideen and became a tough guerrilla commander. Caught by the Taliban in 1997, he suffered more than a year in a Kandahar jail before escaping to Iran.
After Kabul fell this week, he happily returned to a relatively peaceful Herat to try and keep that corner of Afghanistan open for business with neighboring Iran and Turkmenistan.
Mr. Khan, born in 1947, is also Tajik, but could be included in a Pashtun-dominated government because some Tajiks need to be represented.
Mohammad Qasim Fahim: The heavily armed military commander of the Northern Alliance led much of the stunning southern push from Mazar-e-Sharif to Kabul. But he owes most of his strength to weeks of U.S. aerial bombardment. Gen. Fahim is now the leader of Kabul’s newly formed military and political commission. In the early 1990s, he helped lead the Northern Alliance’s intelligence unit.
He replaced the Tajiks’ idolized guerrilla commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated a few days before the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Younis Qanooni: Another leader of Kabul’s newly formed military and political commission, he wields unspecified power to mete out law and order.
Mr. Qanooni and his colleagues were able to maintain general peace throughout Kabul during the first two days after the Northern Alliance entered the capital. He also assured people that the Alliance would not monopolize power and there would be no reimposition of their previously disgraced regime.
Mr. Qanooni is a senior aide to Mr. Rabbani, which may ensure that he appears in a future government.
Though the Northern Alliance enjoys military, financial and diplomatic support from the United States, Russia, India, Iran and other nations and is opposed by Pakistan no one controls them. Diplomats, officials and Afghans fear the Northern Alliance is united only by its leaders’ common hatred of the Taliban and the convenience of supporting one another until they could snatch Kabul.