Afghan opposition looks to avoid feuds in post-Taliban future
JABAL SERAJ, Afghanistan, Sept 27 (AFP) - Sensing the end of the Taliban regime, the fragmented Afghan opposition has begun to prepare for a return to power, determined to avoid the bloody feuds of the past.
"Kabul is not our immediate target, we don't see it as a priority, not only in military but political terms," said senior opposition figure, Dr Abdullah Abdullah.
"What is important is to reach peace in Afghanistan," added Dr Abdullah, foreign minister of the government-in-exile, speaking to journalists some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the frontline north of Kabul.
United by their common struggle against the Soviet invader from 1979-89, the motley alliance of muhajeddin commanders and warlords quickly collapsed when they were at the gates of Kabul back in 1992.
As communist president Mohammad Najibullah fled to a UN compound, ethnic Tajik forces led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military strongman Ahmad Shah Masood took control of the capital.
But the victory was short-lived as the country descended into civil war and anarchy, with vicious infighting between the northern-based Tajiks, the country's majority Pashtun from the south and the Uzbeks and Hazaras.
At the end of 1994, Afghanistan was in a state of virtual disintegration with warring and shifting factions controlling slices of territory and the disputed capital shelled at the cost of hundreds of civilian lives. Betrayed by Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam, the Rabbani government held only Kabul and the northeast.
This vacuum paved the way for the religious students of the Pashtun Taliban movement to storm to power by 1996, offering a desperate population an end to the lawlessness and civil war that racked the nation.
Over the next five years, the Taliban gradually imposed its radical brand of Islam and Pashtun domination over 90 percent of the country, pushing the Masood-led opposition back to his Panjsher Valley stronghold north of Kabul and a corner of the northeast.
Now, as the United States poises to unleash its military might on Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks linked to Taliban guest, Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, the tables have turned.
But this time around, the ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara commanders in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance have no intention of marching on Kabul without first reaching a solid power-sharing deal.
Against a backdrop of popular discontent at Taliban rule, the 15,000 battle-hardened fighters of the opposition are capable of mounting a serious offensive -- if given military help by the United States.
The loss of Masood, assassinated earlier this month by Arab suicide bombers linked to the Taliban, does not appear to have affected morale.
But unless the opposition can forge an accord with the Pushtun majority, control of the capital would prove impossible to sustain, while slippery allies such as Dostum need to be firmly bolted in place.
The Northern Alliance for this purpose has dispatched a delegation to Rome to meet with former Afghan King Zahir Shah to discuss convening a council with all ethnic groups that would appoint a provisional government. "It is about the future political set-up in Afghanistan, post-Taliban arrangements," Dr Abdullah said of the Rome mission.
A top priority for the opposition is to put pressure on Washington to demand that Pakistan withdraws all support for the Taliban.
In the meantime, they are already making plans for their first steps if the Taliban are forced from Kabul, including inviting UN peacekeepers to ensure the demilitarization of the city. "If the Taliban are defeated in the coming days or weeks, the issue of Kabul will become very important because of the vacuum," said Dr Abdullah.
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