After a week of intense negotiations, Afghan parties near Bonn have neared a tentative agreement to establish a 'broad-based' government to succeed the deposed Taliban regime. Hamid Karzai, a former deputy foreign minister of a previous Afghan government, appeared set to become interim leader on December 4. The Northern Alliance presented a list of candidates for its share of a 29-member council the same day. While this may satisfy Western governments, its security provisions could encourage the country's neighbors to continue meddling in its affairs.
The deal boosts the antiterrorism coalition's broadest mission in Afghanistan, by codifying ethnic diversity and drawing a head of state from the Pashtuns, the Taliban's largest ethnic group and the group with strongest ties to Pakistan. Precise details on the composition and structure of the successor government are unclear, but a game plan is in place. Karzai would serve a six-month term before a loya jirga, or grand council, convenes to pave the way for another council. This second council would produce a constitution and oversee elections. The interim administration would include 29 members, with senior Tajik members of the Northern Alliance occupying the defense, foreign and interior ministries. (Representation for others, namely Uzbeks and Hazaras, is unclear.) One of Karzai's five deputies would be a woman, evidently Sima Samar. The agreement also contains provisions for judicial power based on the country's 1964 constitution along with human rights and civil service commissions.
Though it may be impossible to enforce -- not least because the Taliban continues to fight in pockets around Afghanistan, and still controls the Southern city of Kandahar-- the United Nations and the signatories are treating the agreement as a breakthrough. They say it disproves the suspicion that Afghans are too partisan to rule themselves. Deriving the right balance of representation among the many factions and local authorities is a huge and difficult task, and recent indications of warlord activity will make the country harder to unify peacefully.
The government, in its final form, will probably leave big parts of the country relatively autonomous. Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister, claimed the new council would reflect the ethnic makeup of the country and would have a Pashtun plurality. Using Abdullah's logic, Tajiks would be the second-largest group in the council, and Uzbeks would have a small role. This logical-sounding approach masks a weakness of the deal.
While the agreement invokes international support, UN officials have been cryptic about how that support would work. The structure of Afghanistan's security is particularly unclear. The agreement affirms the desirability of a "United Nations mandated force," which would supplant local armies, but is vague about what this force would do or who would staff it.
The security question demands a deep as well as a quick solution. The delegates at Bonn repeatedly acknowledged that no interim government can succeed amid a chaotic security environment. At present a jumble of local warlords provides that security, and their status is connected directly to the calculations of outside backers. Thus, the 'bottom up' arrangement for bringing stability to Afghanistan encourages the widespread conviction that foreign rivalries and interventions will indefinitely poison the country. The region's complex ethnic and border relationships mean that urging neighboring countries to 'keep out' is as productive - but historically has not been as popular- as insisting that 'ungovernable' Afghans accept the imposition of authoritarian rule.
These agreements do not give neighboring states an explicit incentive to promote stability in the region or a strategic reason not to meddle in the infant state's affairs. For example, one could imagine an occupation-like partition under UN oversight; Russia and Uzbekistan could manage the north, Iran the west, Pakistan the east and south, and Americans the capital. This is a fractious and temporary solution, but no more so than the "broad-based" successor regime has been to date. The idea that foreign states can work in concert with the people's wishes, though, does not hold much sway in Afghanistan. For this reason, the UN admits that it still has a great deal of work to do, not only inside the country but also beyond its borders.
UN spokesman Ahmad Fawsi offered a warning on the negotiations that probably echoes in the minds of Central Asian governments and citizens. "Anything can go wrong," he said.
Kenneth Weisbrode is an independent scholar and author of Central Eurasia -- Prize or Quicksand? (IISS/Oxford University Press, 2001).