Our "friends" the Northern Alliance.

Our "friends" the Northern Alliance.

Our "friends" the Northern Alliance.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Nov. 19 2001 11:24 AM

Afghanistan's Next Civil War

Commentators expressed pessimism about the prospects for peace in Afghanistan if the Northern Alliance remains in charge. Britain's Daily Mirrorled its front page Thursday with a gruesome color photograph of an abused Taliban soldier with bloodied trousers around his ankles and the headline, "Our 'Friends' Take Over," while Friday's lead declared the alliance's achievements a "false victory."

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The Toronto Star said the Northern Alliance "is starting to turn on itself, splintering along fault lines of ethnic, tribal and regional allegiances," while the Sydney Morning Herald declared, "Afghanistan appeared to be going backwards into its new future at the weekend, as the contest between competing warlords and political leaders threatened to return it to its historic straitjacket of divisions, corruption and the power of the gun." According to the Herald, this weekend saw "different groups, cronies, warlords and ethnic leaders … trying to carve out their own territory and bargaining positions" to fill the power vacuum left by the retreating Taliban. The piece continued: "For all their objectionable policies, the Taliban, like Tito in Yugoslavia, went close to holding an impossible nation together. And now, the cracks of instability are ripping across Afghanistan, and the signs are of a return to the lawlessness from which the Taliban emerged victorious in the mid-1990s." An op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph compared the current situation to conditions following withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989:

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Now as then the country is in danger of disintegrating into a patchwork of territories run by warlords who use force to maintain power, extort large duties for people and goods to pass through, and whose loyalty is confined to those who offer the largest sack of afghanis. It was this very situation which led people to see the Taliban as an improvement.

On Saturday, 85 British troops arrived at Bagram air base, apparently to facilitate shipments of humanitarian aid, but the Northern Alliance immediately asked them to leave. The alliance defense minister said: "The British forces perhaps have an agreement with the U.N. but not with us. The Taliban, who were an obstacle to peace, have been eliminated. There is therefore no need for thousands of foreign troops." The Sunday Telegraph noted a "coded warning" in the phrase "foreign troops":

[I]t is a reminder that Afghans will not easily tolerate the prolonged presence of any alien army on their soil, be that army composed of Russians or well-meaning UN peace-keepers. There is only one thing which Afghans have traditionally pursued more vigorously than fighting each other, and that is fighting off a foreign invader. An element of that lesson is present even in the collapse of the Taliban regime. It was loathed by many ordinary Afghans not only for its rigid repression, but also because it depended for survival upon the might of an army of assorted Arab, Chechen and Pakistani volunteers.

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Robert Fisk of Britain's Independent said the U.S.-led coalition was deluded if it ever expected the Northern Alliance to "obey us":

Afghan rules don't work that way. Ethnic groups and tribes and villagers don't take orders from foreigners. They do deals. The West wanted to use the Northern Alliance as its foot-soldiers in Afghanistan. The Alliance wanted to use the American bombers to help it occupy the capital. For the Tajiks and Uzbeks and Hazaras, it was all very straightforward. They destroy the Taliban—and then take over Afghanistan, or as much as they can swallow.

Writing in Pakistan's News International, former Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh said it is essential for the United States to maintain stability in post-Taliban Afghanistan: "Osama and Afghanistan are the first phase in the campaign against terrorism that is likely to mould American foreign and even domestic policies for at least the next decade. They cannot afford failure in the very first phase." The Financial Times counseled against losing sight of the ultimate goal of intervention in Afghanistan: "The other unfinished task is to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist network and track down Osama bin Laden. Anything less falls short of a victory for the US-led coalition—a victory that is now tantalisingly within reach." Britain's Independent was one of several papers calling for a larger U.N. presence:

[I]t must be remembered that getting rid of the Taliban is a side-benefit of the campaign against terrorism. It was not one of the original war aims; it was merely a condition of bringing al-Qa'ida to justice. … Although the absence of regular US troops on the ground is helpful, the perception in much of the Arab and Muslim world is that the US has used its overwhelming military might to crush devout Muslims who oppose its values. …The more the US stands back from the war to finish off the Taliban and the more the UN assumes responsibility for administration in liberated Afghanistan … the better.

Does the welfare department offer frequent-flier miles? Imad Eddin Barakat, a Syrian-born Spanish national who is believed to be one of Osama Bin Laden's top lieutenants in Europe, was an out-of-work construction worker who received unemployment benefits to support his wife and four children. According to El País, in the past decade, he visited Britain 10 times and also journeyed to Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Malaysia, Indonesia, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.