Bonn Afghan Deal Must Survive Battlefield
The post-Taliban interim government accord signed at Petersberg Hotel outside Bonn Wednesday, December 5, was hailed by its exhausted signatories and sponsors as a landmark for shattered Afghanistan.
The interim administration is due to take office in Kabul on December 22. Former King Zahir Shah is awarded the symbolic function of calling a traditional grand council – or Loya Jirga – in six months to approve a permanent government, ahead of the drafting of a constitution and a general election in 2004.
Four delegation heads representing the main Afghan rival groups ceremonially signed the accord, followed by 20 remaining delegates, including two women. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi went last. Represented were the opposition Northern Alliance, which now controls three-quarters of Afghanistan and is drawn largely from Tajik, Uzbek, and Shiite Hazara minorities, and three exile factions, the pro-King “Rome group”, the Pakistan-based Peshawar group and the Cyprus group of mostly pro-Iranian Shiites.
The trouble with this slate is that it can hardly be termed representative. The 52 percent of the population that are Pashtun tribesmen do not recognize the sole Pashtun member who has been chosen to head the interim government. The rest come from Afghanistan’s minority groups.
Interim prime minister Hamid Karzai is a royalist, regarded as a member of the exile Rome group and his authority is not acknowledged by Pashtun tribes on either side of the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, added to which he and his 4000 followers are fighting the Taliban in the Kandahar region alongside US Marines.
Another potential sticking point is the fact that the three top posts have been assigned to ethnic Tajiks by letting them keep their Northern Alliance posts – Yunis Qanuni as interior minister, Mohammad Fahim as defense minister and Abdullah Abdullah as foreign minister. Since Tajiks account for no more than one-quarter of the population, the remaining 75 percent are unlikely to take this lying down.
No one in Afghanistan but the Russians is pleased to see ethnic Tajiks in high office.
For ten days, Moscow has been pouring paratroops and special forces into Kabul to watch over its interests in the New Afghanistan. They are also there to protect the interests of the Tajik and Uzbek elements dominating Northern Alliance fighting strength. According to debkafile‘s military sources, more than 6,000 Russian troops are already there.
A factor in the current battle for control of the Tora Bora cave complex north of Kandahar is the balance of power in Kabul. The official objective of the fighting in that sector is to flush out the one thousand al Qaeda fighters believed to be hiding in those caves and capture their leader Osama bin Laden. debkafile‘s intelligence sources believe the odds of bin Laden being present at Tora Bora are slim, a view shared by Pakistani and Indian intelligence. It is in Karzai’s paramount interest to dislodge the al Qaeda from that region; failure to do so will force his own Populzai tribe to live in the shadow of hostile guerrilla attacks and undermine his standing as head of government in Kabul. The fragile house of cards assembled so painstakingly at Petersberg Hotel would then come tumbling down.