- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

The Bush administration's outline for a post-Taliban Afghanistan is feasible. It requires no utopian thrust at nation-building. Naysayers, like United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahmini, have history and persuasiveness against them.

A decade or more of United Nations civil administration of Afghanistan may be needed before restoration of indigenous sovereignty can be risked. But instant duplication of Western democracies should not be the yardstick of victory over Taliban and its al Qaeda terrorist network. An Afghanistan that denies terrorists shelter and succor, avoids egregious human rights violations, and rests on a tolerable degree of popular consent should be the touchstone.

Nine-tenths of statesmanship and wisdom is marking a sharp line between the chimerical and the plausible, and the Bush plan does just that.

A United Nations civil administration protected by a multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan is both urgent and practicable. That land has been internally convulsed and lacerated by ethnic and religious jealousies and prejudices for more than two decades since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras have jostled and jousted for supremacy since time immemorial. Indeed, after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, their warring hatreds and ambitions paved the way for the Taliban's climb to power in 1996. And nothing in their common involvement via the Northern Alliance and otherwise in the ongoing war against predominantly Pashtun Taliban offers a crumb of hope that their lethal rivalries have faded.

In sum, an indefinite United Nations civil administration of Afghanistan is indispensable to avoiding a second edition of the anarchy that midwifed Taliban.

Such a plan requires no leap of faith. Think of the stunning success story of East Timor. It had been similarly bedeviled by religious and cultural animosities since its annexation by Indonesia in 1975. In August 1999, the East Timorese voted for independence in a plebiscite organized by the United Nations. Soon thereafter, operating under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1272 on Oct. 25, 1999, establishing a United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET). It was empowered to exercise all legislative, executive and judicial authority, including an international police force of as many as 1,640 officers, the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a military component with a strength of up to 8,900 troops and 200 military observers.

Despite a daunting number of displaced East Timorese in West Timor refugee camps, a desolated economy, and recurring Indonesian banditry and terror in East Timor, UNTAET conquered all barriers to a peaceful and democratic dispensation in approximately two years. A constituent assembly was fairly and freely elected, a democratic constitution adopted, and an East Timor government by the consent of the governed formed.

East Timor is no fluke. At present, pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 adopted on June 10, 1999, a United Nations civil administration is acting as sovereign in Kosovo indefinitely until its mission is concluded. It sports an international police and military presence, and is entrusted with developing provisional institutions for democratic self-government pending a final political settlement of Kosovo i.e., independence or autonomy within Yugoslavia.

In Cambodia, a United Nations transitional authority (UNTAC) restored a semblance of legitimate government from the charnel house of Pol Pot's genocidal vileness. While Cambodia continues to leave much to lament in the fields of human rights and democracy, it neither threatens its neighbors nor civilization generally.

Temporary United Nations sovereignty in Afghanistan is promising on several counts. None of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which will hold the upper hand in the enterprise (with the arguable exception of Russia), would deeply engage behind any of the ethnic-based warlords.

Moreover, a centuries-old bane of Afghanistan has been a heavy-handed Pashtun central government at the expense of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras.

The United Nations might answer this ancient witch's brew by ethnically homogeneous regional plebiscites with voters choosing between autonomy or independence.

It might be said that such a partition would lend support for ethnic cleansing and cast a cloud over multiethnic states. But as Robert Frost taught, good fences, at least in some circumstances, make for better neighbors than no fences. Aren't the people of post-Tito Yugoslavia better off after its partition into Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and the former Republic of Yugoslavia, i.e., Serbia and Montenegro, than they were artificially cobbled together under Slobodan Milosevic?

The religious composition of a multinational peacekeeping force in post-Taliban will be vital to avoid even the appearance of a Christian crusade against Islam. Thus, the United Nations should request that the Organization of Islamic Conference, which has endorsed the war against global terrorism, select the peacekeepers from among 56 Islamic members.

But Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan should be off-limits because they each enjoy ties with one among the four major ethnic groups.

Likening the circumstances of Afghanistan to the United Nations fiasco in Somalia is unconvincing. Delivery of humanitarian aid, not the nursing into being of self-government, was the chief United Nations inspiration.

And the commitment of the United States was flaccid, not resolute. In contrast, the horrors of Taliban born of a power vacuum in Afghanistan have underscored the urgent national security interest of the United States in an immediate viable and respectable United Nations sovereign presence.

The recommended United Nations mission in Afghanistan might still fail.

Nothing in the world is certain but death and taxes. Educated guesses are thus the staple of statesmanship. And on that score, a provisional United Nations sovereignty to supersede Taliban seems irreproachable.

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