A new government for Afghanistan?

With the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, efforts shifted to setting up a government to pull together the fractious group of squabbling factions that exist in that fragmented nation. A feudal society divided along ethnic (Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Almaks, Turkmen, Baloch, etc.), tribal, and family lines, the various factions ferociously control their areas of influence and jockey among themselves for power. Warlords control different areas and territories. Into this mix have stepped the U.S. and her allies, to assist in the creation of a government intended to stitch together these disparate pieces into a coherent whole. The intent is to make sure that Afghanistan does not return to a situation of anarchy, in which terrorists can find refuge in a country without central authority.

Following a meeting of many of the factions in Bonn, Germany, an interim government was constituted to start the slow process of forming a national government. This is to be followed in six months by a 'loya jirga', or meeting of tribal elders, to determine the shape of a final government. As this process evolves the Bush administration will have to decide which factions or leaders they want to back and lend support to. Hopefully this decision will be based on a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various leaders and the interplay among their different positions, and not on a superficial reading of the situation. Meeting with the various power-brokers and players it would be extremely easy to fall victim to ethnocentrism - gravitating towards and overestimating the importance of the younger, suited and groomed, English-speaking, modern-seeming leader, while ignoring and underestimating the older, dusty, locally-clothed, Daro or Pashto-speaking, feudal-looking, man in the corner who really wields the power.

Already, in the earlier stages of the fight against the Taliban, television chains presented interviews with Afghan 'leaders' to their viewing audiences - some of whom turned out to be 'leaders' more by virtue of the fact that they were telegenic and English-speaking than by their actually wielding any real influence in the field. It is to be devoutly hoped that the administration does not make the same error.

© SNi 01/19/2002