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Kabul: Life After the Taliban

The residents of Kabul can breathe without fear for the first time in five years as the Taliban is forced out. But the question on everyone's mind is: "What's next?"

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Diplomacy, not guns will be needed in Kabul

For the first time in five years, the residents of Kabul woke up to a life undetermined by the oppressive Taliban regime. But there's a sense of uncertainty as to what will happen next.

After the unexpectedly tame fall of Kabul on Tuesday to the triumphant Northern Alliance Forces, world leaders, especially the US and the international coalition are now scrambling to tack together a political solution to post-war Afghanistan.

The biggest challenge undoubtedly lies in forming a broad-based multi-ethnic government in a country ravaged by two decades of war.

The Northern Alliance, made up mainly of minority Tajiks and Uzbeks face international pressure to strike an early deal on a multi-ethnic government including the country's Pashtun tribe, from which the Taliban draws its support.

But for now at least, the Northern Alliance is calling the shots. It does see a role for the United Nations in bringing aid to Afghanistan and in the holding of elections.

"The United Nations will play a main role at first to achieve peace and then to rebuild the country. The United Nations must also play an observer role in the context of elections in Afghanistan", said Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

He did not rule out a role for ex-King Zahir Shah with whom the Northern Alliance has signed an agreement on forming a 120-member council that would pave the way for the holding of a loyal jirga, or grand council, of all Afghan groups.

The Foreign Minister also said on Wednesday that if his forces captured bin Laden and Mullah Omar, they should face trial as war criminals.

Abdullah played down the need for any kind of international peacekeeping force in his drought-stricken and war-ravaged land, saying that the forces of the Northern Alliance were capable of defeating the Taliban and returning peace after 23 years of war.

The international coalition and especially the UN fear for civilians in Kabul, considering the poor human rights track record of the Northern Alliance.

Conflicting reports of widespread looting and plundering in the Afghan capital are trickling in as the world is reminded of the bloody rule of the Northern Alliance in the 1990s which cost about 50,000 lives.

US diplomatic efforts

The U.S. envoy to the Afghan Northern Alliance, Ambassador James Dobbins, appointed just last week, is on a mission to help urgent efforts to build a broad-based government in Afghanistan.

He is due to arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday from Rome after talks with former Afghan King Zahir Shah. He will meet with Pakistani government officials and Afghan opposition figures.

Dobbins aims to back international moves to create a government which represents all Afghan ethnic groups, including the Pashtun majority that dominates the Taliban.

His visit to Pakistan is seen as a chance to consult Pashtun leaders based in the northwestern border city of Peshawar. The trip is also crucial for Dobbins to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with President Pervez Musharraf, formed after the Pakistan leader extended support to the U.S. campaign against the Taliban despite domestic opposition.

Bush: Bin Laden still the target

U.S. President George W. Bush said Afghanistan's Northern Alliance had made clear it did not plan to occupy Kabul and said the United States would stress to the opposition alliance the importance of respect for human rights.

With reports of reprisal killings, he warned the Northern Alliance not to loot, pillage or kill prisoners.

He made it clear that Washington still had bin Laden very much in its sights.

"We're making great progress in our objective, and that is to tighten the net and eventually bring al Qaeda to justice and, at the same time, deal with the government that's been harboring them," Bush told a news conference.

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