Saturday, November 17, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Northern Alliance officials began to clamp down on security in the capital yesterday, patrolling the streets in armed convoys and seizing unauthorized weapons as the city’s new rulers tried to establish an air of normalcy.

A flying column of soldiers in sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and an armored personnel carrier led by Bismillah Khan, the commander of the Northern Alliance’s Guard units, roamed Kabul’s markets and thoroughfares. Mr. Kahn stopped occasionally to brief uniformed troops stationed at major intersections, and pulled over sharply whenever he or his men spotted anyone carrying a firearm almost always a Kalashnikov rifle.

“The idea is to make sure that the only people moving about with weapons are those with specific security-force duties,” Mr. Kahn said as his unit stopped to issue orders to troops at a traffic junction. “We also want to keep armed people from entering the city.”

For a few uncertain hours after the Taliban was forced out of the city Tuesday, lawlessness and looting reigned. But the Northern Alliance moved into the streets within hours of the Taliban retreat and, after rounding up straggling soldiers and troublemakers, Kabul’s liberating army established control.

In the days since, the Northern Alliance’s specially designated Guard unit has been careful to nurture an image of impartial protector largely to ease concerns that the presence of predominantly Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance fighters could stoke ethnic tensions among the capital’s heavily ethnic-Pashtun residents.

Along a gritty street lined with auto-parts shops, the security convoy skidded to a halt. Mr. Kahn confronted a man in his mid-20s carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder.

The man looked stunned but, wisely, didn’t resist when the commander grabbed his rifle and handed it to one of the soldiers in the back of the nearest pickup truck. Mr. Kahn leaped back into his SUV and roared off down the road again.

Mohammed Yunus Qanooni, the Northern Alliance’s interior minister, led a similar confiscation sweep around the city.

Through the Taliban’s five-year Afghan reign, while Kabul residents suffered under strict Islamic edicts and Northern Alliance fighters threatened from the north, the regime was concerned about an armed uprising. After their rout of the Taliban earlier this week, Northern Alliance fighters here seem more confident of their hold on the city.

Northern Alliance authorities say that they have no plans for an outright ban on gun ownership. Nor will they cordon off neighborhoods or mount house-to-house arms searches a measure that the Taliban routinely employed.

The new authorities are most concerned about armed individuals and groups slipping in from outside Kabul both from their own heartland to the north and from the Taliban-dominated frontier to the south.

In part, the Northern Alliance’s high-profile firearms patrols are an effort to avoid a replay of the four years they ruled until 1996.

At that time, Afghanistan’s warring factions, having ended the era of Soviet occupation and in control of the capital, proved too divided to form a stable government and watched as former communist troops and local gangs divided the city into small, lawless fiefdoms.

Northern Alliance forces may soon face a similar threat. The Shi’ite Islam party Hezb-e-Wahdat, a member of the alliance, announced several days ago that it planned to reoccupy its former positions in Kabul. About a thousand of its troops were said to be on their way to the city.

Wahdat’s members are mostly Hazaras, a small, historically downtrodden minority set apart by their oriental features and their faith in a country dominated by rival Sunni Muslims.

Almost every resident of Kabul knows somebody taken hostage at the impromptu checkpoints that Wahdat fighters set up around Hazara neighborhoods. Many hostages were held for days or weeks in shipping containers in the hot sun.

“They won’t be allowed in,” said a senior Northern Alliance commander, referring to the Hezb-e-Wahdat fighters.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the commander said, “If they want to fight, I don’t think they’ll be as successful as they were before. The ones who caused most of the troubles are dead anyway. And other Afghans have had their fill of war.”

Soon, the Northern Alliance may not have sole responsibility for security in the city. About 100 British marines have landed at Bagram air base north of Kabul. They are an advance party to secure the airfield and set up an air-traffic-control systems, a Northern Alliance official said.

A number of U.S. soldiers are already operating on the streets of Kabul. Their numbers might eventually amount to “hundreds, even a few thousand,” said a Northern Alliance official.

Northern Alliance leaders, especially Faheem Khan, the military chief, are said to be strongly in favor of such a Western-backed presence.

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