Diplomats are struggling to keep pace with military events in Afghanistan. While the breathtaking speed of the Taliban collapse is being welcomed by the anti-terrorism coalition, the sudden battlefield shift leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to a political vacuum that threatens state-building designs. Hoping to close this gap as quickly as possible, the anti-terrorism coalition is focusing attention on a UN stabilization plan.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, outlined the UN stabilization plan November 13. It calls for the establishment of a 2-year transitional government that is supported by a multinational security force. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The UN Security Council met behind closed doors November 14 to discuss the plan.
Recognizing that the Brahimi plan offers perhaps the best hope for the rapid political stabilization of Afghanistan, key anti-terrorism coalition members are signaling their support. One diplomat at the UN told EurasiaNet: "Anything that Brahimi wants, we'll give him."
At present, there is no political force ready to govern Afghan territory recently conquered by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Afghanistan's former monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, has been trying to form a broad coalition, but his initiative has been slow in developing. The danger now is that the longer it takes to forge viable administrative structures, the more difficult it will be for Afghanistan to break a vicious cycle of violence that has plagued the country for the last two decades.
Afghanistan has missed earlier stabilization opportunities, most notably in 1992 when the Soviet-backed regime of Najibullah collapsed. International support lagged for the Mujaheddin government that took over from the communist regime. Within several months, disputes among the various Mujaheddin factions, many of which are now part of the Northern Alliance, led to a renewal internecine fighting.
Leading members of the anti-terrorism coalition are sensitive to criticisms of the international community's failure to come to the aid Afghanistan in 1992, and they are eager to avoid a repetition of history. "Last week, we were being criticized for the alleged failure of the military action. This week, there is some criticism of the alleged success of the military action," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told journalists. "We have planned ahead as far as we can."
"If, for example, there had been no discussion and no Security Council resolutions about the future of Afghanistan, no appointment of Ambassador Brahimi
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.