Tuesday, November 6, 2001

The United States should abandon ongoing initiatives contemplating a post-Taliban government stitched together from splintered indigenous and ethnically based warlords and one exiled and superannuated King.

Instead, a United Nations civilian government under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, supported by police and military personnel drawn largely from member nations of the Organization of Islamic Conference, should be immediately recruited. The U.N. regime should be installed as soon as the United States, with the concurrence of the Security Council, determines that our campaign against Taliban has crippled its war-making, guerrilla, or terrorist capabilities in Afghanistan. That pseudo-nation should then remain as a U.N. protectorate indefinitely.

Sharp political warring among Afghan power centers, all coveting ethnic dominance in a post-Taliban world, contrasts sharply with their droopy collaboration with the United States military assault on Taliban. The bewildering dramatis personae in the plotting is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream.” At least seven rival processes are jousting for supremacy.

One is headquartered in Rome and touts the ambitions of defunct King Mohammed Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, who was ousted in 1973. Another rests in Cyprus and is a stalking horse for former warlord and human-rights villain Gulbiddin Hekmatyar. A third finds its home in Peshawar, and commands the enthusiasm of Pakistan. This initiative is fueled by Afghan Pashtuns mistrustful of the faction-ridden Northern Alliance controlling sections of northern and northeastern Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance itself, a witch’s brew of Tajik, Uzbeck and Hazara warlords guilty of grim human-rights abuses, thirsts for a second chance to rule in Kabul after bringing Afghanistan to ruination from 1992-1995. Its chief notorieties or nonentities include Gen. Mohammed Fahim, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Cmdr. Ismail Khan, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ayatollah Asif Muhsini, Mohammed Karim Khalili and Haji Mohammed Muhaqiq.

Rival circles to this unglorified quartet include a Geneva group representing the United States, Italy, Iran, and Germany; an Afghan support group largely consisting of European and Western-tilting countries; and, a “Six Plus Two” group composed of Afghanistan’s six neighbors plus the United States and Russia. Since the United States began warring against Taliban weeks ago, no evidence justifies hope that a viable, legitimate, and respectable Afghan government could be summoned into being from Taliban’s fissiparous briar patch of opposition. None has ever commanded legitimacy through a free and fair popular vote. All are prone by indoctrination and experience to embrace Mao Tse-tung’s dogma that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” You will not find their lairs brimming with the works of John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Edmund Burke, Lord Bryce, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, or other giants of political wisdom.

Proponents of an indigenous, post-Taliban government of national unity, nevertheless, seem tacitly to assume that individuals available for service will be intellectual descendants of America’s Founding Fathers. Have they not witnessed the anemic and hapless initiatives in Somalia to concoct a government from Kalashnikovs and AK-47s? Have they not been chastened by the shipwrecked U.S. quest to pluck a Kurdish democracy in northern Iraq from the endemically warring political cults of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party? Should they not be dismissed as Talleyrand dismissed the French Bourbons: “They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”

Making a U.N. protectorate over Afghanistan our war objective is advisable. When given a clear target, like driving Iraq from Kuwait, our military has proven uniformly invincible. Only when our political leaders have blown an uncertain trumpet have our soldiers faltered.

At present, however, our fighting forces in Afghanistan enjoy no ascertainable benchmark of victory. Thus, President George Bush and his civilian and military lieutenants should initiate talks with would-be U.N. Afghan administrators over what ground conditions and degree of Taliban destruction would be necessary to begin operations without unreasonable risk.

Advice should be sought from U.N. administrators who are currently exercising sovereign power in East Timor, Kosovo and Bosnia. Lessons should also be taken from failed U.N. civil administration missions in the Congo and West Irian (before its annexation by Indonesia), and a partial success story in Cambodia.

The U.N. protectorate should be tasked to govern in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan; to be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and undebauched democratic precepts; and, to cultivate a culture, political habits, and attachment to human-rights consistent with both enlightened and popular government. Defense forces for the protectorate should be enlisted from Muslim countries to discredit the predictable Taliban polemic about a Christian crusade against Islam. The protectorate should cease when the United Nations Security Council determines that Afghanistan is prepared for free and fair elections and civilized indigenous rule.

A U.N. civil administration will be messy. It may be expensive. It may encounter unforeseen pitfalls. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s praise of democracy, it is decisively superior to all the alternatives that have been attempted or conceived.

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