Afghanistan's UN representative said he would welcome the "moral influence" of the United Nations in helping to negotiate peace in his country and with its neighbors, but he emphasized there should be no UN military presence once the Taliban movement is ousted from power.
Ravan Farhadi represents the UN-recognized Islamic State of Afghanistan, which is effectively the political wing of the Northern Alliance. Currently, the Northern Alliance controls roughly 10 percent of Afghanistan's territory, and continues to provide the main military resistance to Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Joint US-British bombing raids, ongoing since October 7, have weakened Taliban military capabilities.
Speaking in New York on October 11, Farhadi praised the Secretary General's appointment of former Algerian Ambassador Lakhtar Brahimi as his Special Representative for Afghanistan, saying he is "a man who knows the question of Afghanistan very well."
Farhadi said he could envision a UN negotiating role in Afghanistan similar to that of the Dayton Peace Process, but after that the UN should allow Afghans to govern themselves. Contrasting his country's situation to the UN mission in East Timor, he said Afghans will not have "a Swede who will be governor of Afghanistan."
Farhadi said that he hoped the war in his country would last a matter of weeks, not months, and that a multi-ethnic broad-based government was the only solution to a successful post-Taliban regime. But while he predicted the end of the Taliban and spoke of the immediate need for a coalition government, experts say that such a volatile transition could create further problems.
"The Northern Alliance and the Movement for Loya Jirga are afraid of a premature collapse of the Taliban because they do not have the capacity to govern the country," said Barnett Rubin, a specialist on Afghanistan at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. "If this war continues and it leads in fact to the disintegration of the Taliban without the creation of a stable political succession to the Taliban, we will see coming a winter of chaos, fighting and massive famine."
Despite a call by some Afghans for United Nations involvement, Rubin said that maintaining a balancing act between policies put forward by the United Nations and the United States will not be easy. "I think the feeling now is that the UN has made a strategic decision that it cannot get ahead of the United States in this situation because it just won't get anywhere. It will be self-defeating. So they are looking for the United States to request some kind of UN action," Rubin said, adding, however, that "any leadership that is brought by the United States does not have any chance of survival" and must include international legitimacy.
As the United States works to establish international legitimacy with Afghanistan's neighbors, some are questioning the notion of peace at any cost. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) warns that "a solution that involved a prominent role for the Northern Alliance in a post-Taliban government would also be problematic given the unsavory record of some of that movement's key elements when they held power."
ICG President Gareth Evans, in a briefing at the UN on October 10, extended that warning to regional cooperation as well. "We are concerned that the courtship of the Central Asian republics that's now underway is perhaps being bought at too high a price in terms of creating conditions that will encourage a group of fairly repressive governments to go on being repressive, so far as domestic political discontent is concerned," he said.
Evans and Ustina Markus, ICG's senior analyst in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, argue that because Islamic fundamentalism is not inherently strong in Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, any effort to suppress religious and political opposition would simply drive those people into the hands of the Taliban. This has been the fate of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to Markus, which in recent years has launched attacks on Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from bases in Afghanistan.
While concessions on political repression might jeopardize long-term stability in the region, so too would economic instability, which many of the region's leaders recognize. Further economic assistance, Markus said, could be a carrot offered by the West.
"Certainly we shouldn't disengage and leave them economically in the dumps," she said. "They've really been looking for a lot more support and a lot more aid, and they certainly deserve it. We wouldn't want the whole area to turn into the black hole of Afghanistan."
Farhadi addressed the war's economic consequences by suggesting that the time would soon be right to infuse his country with an aid package similar to the Marshall Plan, supplied by both the United States and the European Union.
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.