With the rapid collapse of the Taliban, the world's focus must now shift to the creation of a viable government and relief of the sufferings of the Afghan people. Military victory is worthless unless the urgent humanitarian needs of the populace are quickly addressed and a transitional government--supported by an international security force--is put in place. At this point, the nightmare scenario is that Afghanistan will slide into anarchy, a venue of free-ranging terrorists, clashing warlords and a shadow economy based on drug and contraband smuggling. The precipitate move by the Northern Alliance troops into Kabul, and the re-emergence on the scene of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the alliance's president, raised the specter of endless power struggles, especially as various warlords and ethnic factions seemed poised to carve up the country among themselves. Assurances by representatives of the United Front (as it is now known) to US and UN representatives that they would participate in talks at a neutral place and their opposition to an international military force in Kabul were contradictory signals.
What sort of transitional government will eventually emerge must be left to the Afghans, but it should measure up to the description by the "Six Plus Two" countries of "a broad-based, multiethnic, politically balanced, freely chosen Afghan administration representative of [Afghan] aspirations and at peace with its neighbors." We would add that representatives of Afghan women, excluded from preliminary talks in Rome, must be allowed to participate fully in the conference and in any governing entity that results. And this entity should also incorporate human rights into its charter, exclude perpetrators of war crimes from government posts and police forces and grant no amnesties to those convicted of such crimes.
Beyond these fundamentals we cannot expect democracy to bloom immediately in that ravaged land. UN representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi is said to be hoping for at best a representative transitional government that can govern for a two-year period. This entity should provide internal stability while the United Nations helps the Afghans get back on their feet.
Right now everyone agrees that the world must not abandon Afghanistan as it did after the Soviets departed. The UN is committed to national reconstruction for the long haul, but it cannot succeed without US, European and world support. Both Brahimi and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan fear that the West, particularly the United States, will set up the UN for failure by assigning it the herculean task of nation-building without providing it the resources to do the job. …