Power isn't easy to share with guns at ready
One city's attempts at coalition rule demonstrate the difficulty of building a government all Afghans will accept
By Jack Kelley
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- At times, it seems like a game of one-upmanship.
''I have 5,000 men and more weapons than anyone,'' yells Hazarat Ali, Jalalabad's new security chief, during a territorial dispute with a local tribal chief. ''None of you must challenge me. My word is the law.''
Mohammed Amir Shah, a militia commander, shoots back: ''Did you see what my men were pulling? It's an anti-tank weapon. Whatever you have, I have more of. That means I demand respect. Got it?''
Before the two men can come to blows, the city's new governor and dozens of clerics intervene. Within an hour and without a shot being fired, the two men, and their heavily armed militias, reluctantly shake hands and agree to share power. It is another small, unprecedented victory in this city's attempt to build a coalition government. How long it will last, however, is an open question.
As several Afghan factions gather today near Bonn, Germany, to discuss the country's future, the difficulty of divvying up power in a tribal-based society is playing out on a much smaller scale in this city bristling with guns and ancient animosities.
Nearly 60 tribal leaders, clerics and commanders have been meeting in Jalalabad, a city controlled by neither the Northern Alliance nor the Taliban, to decide on leadership positions.
Just 3 days after the Taliban fled this city on Nov. 14, tribal leaders elected a governor who, in turn, appointed his two main rivals as chiefs of security and defense. The Jalalabad assembly, now in its second week, is deciding on other leadership positions.
''We're trying to set an example for the rest of the country,'' says Haji Abdul Qadir, Jalalabad's new governor. He's the brother of opposition warlord Abdul Haq, whom the Taliban killed Oct. 26. Abdul Haq had been on a mission in Afghanistan to try to persuade other warlords to join him and defeat the Taliban.
''We're telling these people, 'Enough, 22 years of fighting is too much.' We must proceed like peaceful gentlemen,'' Qadir says.
There are early signs it may be working. Rival tribesmen, dressed in their traditional robes and turbans, eat, talk and pray together. Their gunmen even smoke opium and play cricket together.
But in this society, where power is decided by the caliber of a man's weapons and the strength of his army, many doubt whether Qadir's approach will last. Gun control, his critics charge, does not exist in this part of the world.
''This is Afghanistan, not the United Nations,'' says Sultan Aziz, 35, owner of the 12-room Afghan Hotel. ''After so many decades of fighting, it will be hard to drop your weapon and talk. It's easier to rule by the gun. That's our past, and it will be our future.''
Reverting to the past
There already are signs of trouble. The city's Pashtun tribal leaders, once loyal to their Taliban ethnic brethren, are threatening to go to war against the Uzbek- and Tajik-controlled opposition Northern Alliance if Pashtuns aren't included in a coalition government.
Many of the thousands of militiamen in this city refuse to give up their guns. The men, nearly all of them veterans of the mujahedin that forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989, carry everything from handheld rocket launchers to AK-47s. They race through town in stolen vehicles, terrorizing residents and stealing from shops and offices.
In the less than 2 weeks since the Taliban fled, the militias have ransacked several United Nations offices here and stolen eight four-wheel drive vehicles, 14 computers and more than 20 pieces of furniture. ''There is no order in Jalalabad. This situation is hopeless,'' U.N. security chief Waris Omari says as he watches one of his Toyota Land Cruisers, stolen last week by one of Ali's police officers, race past. ''We did not like the Taliban, but at least they instilled order.''
Women, especially, are scared. Many refuse to leave their homes for fear of being sexually assaulted. ''In the mid-1990s, Afghan women were piled into the back of trucks and driven away to be raped by these militias,'' says Samina Saba, spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women, an advocacy group based in Pakistan. ''I'm afraid we're headed in the same direction this time.''
There are other problems to cope with, as well. There is little running water or electricity in Jalalabad and no phone service. The city's airport and army barracks, which once housed Taliban troops, were nearly demolished by U.S. airstrikes. Most of the 300,000 residents of this key trading center between Kabul and neighboring Pakistan are unemployed.
''After the Taliban collapsed, there was no government and no security system,'' says Nasrullah Baliari, Qadir's brother and adviser. ''We have to start from the beginning. We're building this government from the bottom up. It's not going to be easy.''
Beards and burqas
Despite the end of the Taliban's rule, little appears to have changed outwardly in Jalalabad.
Unlike in the urban centers of Kabul and Herat, most of the residents here have always considered themselves deeply Islamic. Men still wear beards, women still don the all-encompassing burqa that the Taliban had required, and the local radio station broadcasts only Koranic chants. Residents shun alcohol and socialize only with members of their own sex, at least in public.
''We are not like the women of Kabul, who drink alcohol and wear makeup and short dresses in public,'' says Fatima Habir, 26, a homemaker. ''We are religious women who pray five times a day. We are not urban prostitutes.''
There are subtle changes, however. Taliban officials had demanded that a man's beard be longer than the length of his two fists. They banned music and beat residents who spoke openly or criticized their regime. Now, some men are trimming their beards, playing Iranian music in their cars and criticizing the government without fear of retribution.
Nevertheless, few here are optimistic that peace will prevail. Among the doubters is Ali, the security chief. In an effort to persuade residents to turn in their guns, he has attached a loudspeaker atop his four-wheel-drive vehicle, which he admits he stole from a U.N. compound. (He says he'll eventually return it.) He drives the vehicle around the tree-lined streets, broadcasting an appeal to disarm.
''Don't carry weapons, night or day,'' Ali says into the loudspeaker. ''If you are found with a weapon, you will be punished.''
He says he promised the governor that he would give this ''diplomatic approach'' a 1-week trial. If that doesn't work, he and his men will ''crack some skulls.''
''If anyone dares cross me, they will pay a price,'' he says, tossing a hand grenade into the air with his left hand and catching it with his right. ''This is the Afghan way. No other way will work.''
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