‘We can take country forward,’ chief says
By Fariba Nawa
December 6, 2001
The San Francisco Chronicle
Bonn, Germany — Afghans around the world rejoiced yesterday as delegates signed an agreement to establish an interim post-Taliban government in Afghanistan on Dec. 22.
After nine days of exhausting negotiations, the four Afghan groups meeting in Bonn promised to work together for the next six months until a traditional assembly, or loya jirga, is convened. Former rivals agreed to begin rebuilding the country, torn by 22 years of war, with the guidance of the United Nations and foreign donors.
As the Bonn conference ended, a U.N.-sponsored donor conference for Afghanistan began in Berlin. Donor countries are expected to give billions of dollars in reconstruction aid.
The crucial issue of ethnic and political distribution of posts for the transition government was handled fairly, observers agreed. In the 30-member cabinet are seven Pashtuns, 10 Tajiks, four Hazaras, three Uzbeks, five Shiites and one Nuristani. The militarily dominant Northern Alliance received 17 of the seats.
Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun leader and former deputy foreign minister during the short-lived 1992-96 mujahedeen government in Kabul, will be the chairman of the interim government. Karzai is an English-speaking relative of former king Mohammad Zahir Shah. He and his 5,000 troops are fighting the Taliban in Kandahar, the hard-line Islamic militia’s stronghold.
Karzai had no competition for the post after Abdul Haq, the other Westernized Pashtun and mujahedeen commander, was slain by the Taliban last month. Karzai’s duties will be similar to those of a prime minister.
Karzai, who narrowly escaped death yesterday from a wrongly targeted U.S. bomb, told the BBC that his first priority would be “peace and stability for Afghanistan and the chance for Afghans to return to a normal life and being sure people get the opportunity to work and earn.
“. . . I hope that with God’s help we can take the country forward to a much better future.” Zahir Shah, the exiled king, will be the head of the loya jirga, which will appoint the two-year transitional government. That administration will draft a constitution and pave the way for fair elections and democracy.
The choice solved the problem of whether the king should be a symbolic or active member of the government. The head of the loya jirga is a respectable but temporary post that seems appropriate for an 87-year-old.
REBELS KEEP POSITIONS
The Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of minority fighters and the only group at the talks whose members currently reside in Afghanistan, was able to hang on to most of the de facto positions it already holds in Kabul.
Alliance interior minister Younis Qanooni will assume the same post on a national level, as will foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Qasim Fahim, who replaced the slain and popular Ahmed Shah Massood as the alliance’s military leader, will be the defense minister.
Former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, the alliance’s political leader, had stalled the Bonn talks for days by refusing to hand over a list of candidates. He may have a place on the new supreme court called for in the accord.
Left out of a powerful role is Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord who helped defeat the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif and allowed the first U.S. troops inside Afghanistan. Dostum’s shifting alliances and his reputation as a ruthless fighter may have cost him the chance to obtain a key post.
“He’s the one who took Mazar and Kunduz and has been instrumental in fighting terrorism,” said Azam Dadfar, Dostum’s envoy to the conference. “He will be discussing the problem with other members of the cabinet because he should be given the role of foreign or defense minister. “But he accepts the final agreement because we all want peace.”
WOMEN A PART OF NEW PLAN
Afghan women, after enduring five years of oppression under the Taliban when they had no public rights, will be a part of the interim administration.
Sima Samar, a Shiite ethnic Hazara and director of the Shuhada aid organization based in Quetta, Pakistan, will have one of the five vice chair positions. The outspoken physician, who runs clinics, hospitals and schools inside Afghanistan and travels the world raising funds for Afghan women, had been threatened with death by the Taliban.
The other woman cabinet member, Suheila Seddiqi, is also a doctor and will serve as health minister. Seddiqi has been practicing in Kabul and never left the country throughout the war. Khorshid Noori, an activist with the Afghan Women’s Network in Peshawar, Pakistan, said: “I’m elated. We have been working so hard on this and finally seeing the fruits of our labor.”
Despite such successes, the new cabinet is certain to be criticized for its lack of expertise — not surprising inasmuch as the posts were parceled out largely to meet ethnic and political quotas.
Rangin Dadfar Spanta, an Afghan political science professor at the University of Aachen in Germany, said: “It would have been much more practical to have a smaller cabinet with intellectuals and elder scholars not tied to ethnicity. But this is temporary, and everyone’s hoping this is the beginning of a better process.”
Afghans are aware that the upbeat mood could turn to despair quickly if the new leaders are left without guidance.
“We’re still very dependent on the U.N. and the international community,” said Nasir Mehrin, an exile in Germany who has written six books on Afghan politics. “This is the chance for foreign countries to make up for all the damage they caused and help us create a democratic nation.”
NO LONGER A PAWN
Meetings like the one in Bonn took place often over the past two decades, but there was no serious international pressure for a solution, experts say.
Warlords and other nations, such as Iran and Pakistan, would intervene and spoil attempts at reconciliation among rival factions.
Mehrin says the new leadership must actively engage foreign nations, instead of assuming the traditional role of regional pawn. He said one of its primary tasks is to attempt reconciliation with Pakistan, which has regarded the Northern Alliance with distaste. The most pressing issue is how and under what conditions the millions of Afghan refugees whom Pakistan has been sheltering will be repatriated.
“It’s a fine line on how we position our new role in the world,” said Mehrin. Referring to the historic struggle for power in the region, he said, “If there’s going to be another Great Game, we will dictate it.
“We will be masters of our new nation. In order for this plan to work, we cannot be bought and we shall not fight anymore.”