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Signpost
Brewing storm
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Afghanistan today looks in many ways like the Afghanistan after Russians left—ready for a vicious civil war 

M. Zeyaul HaqueTime magazine of April 1, 2002 carries a story that hints at an ominous future for the war-ravaged country. "Goodbye to All That" by Alex Perry (reported by Tim McGirk and Simon Robinson in Kabul and Mark Thompson in Washington) says, " When the war on terror ends, the U.S. plans to leave Afghanistan. But will its legacy be a quickening of conflict—and a possible civil war?"

After reading the story one comes to the conclusion that this is exactly what is going to happen. Afghanistan had plunged into a civil war after America got disinterested in the wake of Russian withdrawal. Once the campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban remnants is over, America would leave, creating the same situation once again.

That is a spine-chilling prospect for Mr Hamid Karzai, whose fate would not be different from Najibullah’s if he does not sneak out quick enough. Perry writes: "There is a mischievous story doing the round in Kabul about why the Americans can’t find Osama bin Laden. The whisper among embassy staff and aid workers over whisky at the UN club is that the key obstacle is Afghanistan’s lauded interim leader, Hamid Karzai."

Why is Karzai acting as an obstacle? Because "Karzai knows the Americans will leave as soon as they get their man. He also knows his own position—and almost all hope for preventing a civil war between the country’s warlords—depends on their staying. So Karzai has Osama bin Laden under lock and key in the presidential palace – for the sake of peace."

That is only a joke—a pretty grim one—but a joke that is essentially true. The US by backing the ragtag band of minorities’ warlords, the Northern Alliance, has enabled them to rule over the majority Pashtuns, who had been ruling the country till the fall of the Taliban. That is an explosive situation; the detonation is prevented only as long as America stays. "And by rearming the (Northern Alliance) warlords to hunt down the al Qaeda and the Taliban, the U.S. has also unwittingly helped fuel further conflict."

One of the possible ways of stabilising the situation would have been the creation of a national army representing all ethnic groups. America has been supporting this option. However, the Northern Alliance warlords have turned the recruitments into a farce.

Army recruitments began in February. "When the first 300 hopefuls turned up, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took a look at the recruits’ surnames and discovered they were almost all Tajik Panshiris sent by Afghan Defense Minister Fahim.

This is certainly not the way a national army should be created in Afghanistan. An army without adequate Pashtun representation would never be a national army. However, at this point in time, the warlords (like ever) are busy settling tribal scores. Quite often they get their enemies killed by American and allied forces by falsely indicting them as Taliban or al Qaeda.

The story shows a U-turn in the US position. First the Bush administration said that America was not interested in nation-building (cobbling together a "nation" out of disparate and fractious jumble of tribes) in Afghanistan. Then they said they would stay back and try to help the Afghans effect national reconciliation. Now they are saying they would not stay after the Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are caught. And that is terrible news for men ruling Afghanistan today.

Meanwhile, on March 27 the Americans got what many among them consider a great catch—Abu Zubaidah, supposed to be one of the most important figures in al Qaeda, possibly third in hierarchy after Osama and al Zwahiri. In separate raids in Faisalabad, Pakistan, 51 alleged al Qaeda operatives were caught by American-Pakistani joint teams.

The Americans are saying that Abu Zubaidah was the strategy and logistics planner of al Qaeda and his arrest would help in forestalling terrorist attacks against American interests. 

In the final analysis, despite reports to the contrary, the US and its allies may not be in a hurry to leave Afghanistan. To that extent Karzai’s prayers are answered.
q

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