An Uneasy Alliance | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 08.01.2002
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An Uneasy Alliance

The first German troops to join the security force left on Tuesday for Kabul. But local tribal warlords could be a hindrance to the country's new government and a danger to their former allies.


The national symbol of Afghanistan

They ruled, mostly selfishly and violently, from 1992 to 1996. Their many human rights abuses and corruption made the entry of the oppressive but disciplinarian Taliban regime in 1996 all the easier to digest for the Afghan population.

With the Taliban’s ouster, the armed bands under Afghanistan’s many warlords returned to the streets of Kabul and Kandahar.

Armed robberies and other forms of abuse once rare under the Taliban rule, are once again common, according to reports from the region. Bands of armed men have been raiding the compounds of aid agencies and forcing trucks from the World Food Program to pay $100 "tolls" before entering the country.

As the new government in Kabul enters its inaugural month, its leaders face the herculean task of drawing together a host of war-mongering tribal leaders whose only allegiance is to power and money. The US and Great Britain, dependent on those warlords in ferreting out Al Queda and Taliban fighters, is finding their interest in serving as the coalition forces' proxy army waning.

Warlords once useful to US and British forces ...

The enterprising nature of the anti-Taliban forces was a boon to the United States special forces, who were able to buy themselves a proxy army that knew the terrain and hiding places of the Taliban and Al Queda. Northern Alliance troops, a sophisticated word for what was all too often thrown-together bands of armed Afghans and recently bought-off Taliban, marched through city after city, turning the Taliban fighters on their tails.

Since the Taliban’s route, those forces have been supplying US special forces with intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Al Queda leaders. But with each passing day, bin Laden seems further from the grasp of US and British forces, throwing some of the bought intelligence into question.

Operatives will only "tell you what you want to hear," Charles Heyman of Jane’s World Armies recently told the Christian Science Monitor. "You can’t trust them."

Could become a hinderance

As a result, it seems more and more likely that the US and Great Britain will have to undertake the search by themselves, through dangerous and rocky terrain and booby-trapped caves. The prospect is disconcerting for the political leaders of the coalition forces. It means having to inform the general public of potential casualties and the possibility that soldiers will be in Afghanistan for a long time.

More concerning than the reaction in America and Great Britain is the reaction on the ground in Afghanistan. Experts warn that an extended stay by US and British soldiers could both complicate the United Nations peacekeeping mission and arouse the anger of Afghans who will eventually grow tired of their presence.

Karzai has tried to prepare his population for that possibility. And under the agreement struck in Petersburg, Germany, all armed Afghan factions are technically under his interim government's control.

Trying for disarmament

There is also talk of a disarming most of the mujahideen to ensure the stability of UN peacekeepers and prevent the early 1990s from happening all over again. So far, the government has introduced a gun registration plan whereby everyone wishing to carry a weapon, including soldiers, must register for a license.

But in a land where almost everyone has a gun, disarmament or registration is a massive and perhaps futile undertaking. Some of the warlords, according to reports and experts on the region, feel little or no allegiance to the new government in Kabul and would be loathe to turn over any weapons.

The prospect that these armed men are now part of Hamid Karzai’s interim government has frightened residents even more.

"These people don’t know how to run a government," one resident told reporters recently. "They rule only for money. They take money on gunpoint and do what they want. People are afraid to express their ideas now. They are not safe."