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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Analysis: Can enemies rule together?
US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf
Powell and Musharraf want coalition rule in Afghanistan
By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

The President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf has won an important point.

By persuading the Americans to agree to include "moderate Taleban leaders" in the formula for a future government in Afghanistan, he is now able to offer a major reassurance to Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, that their interests will not be ignored.

The opposition Northern Alliance is dominated by non-Pashtuns - Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks - and if the international "Coalition against Terrorism" were simply to hand over power to them it would cause a huge backlash among the Pashtuns, who represent about 40% of the population.

There is a very strong pragmatic streak in most Afghans, and they will often go over to the side which they think offers them the most

Indeed, many observers believe it is only common sense to try to include some of those regional leaders, mostly Pashtuns, who supported the Taleban in the past but may have grown disillusioned with their strict and often severe rule, and their links with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

That is why the US, from the very start, tried to involve ex-king Zahir Shah, a Pashtun who tried to reform and liberalise Afghanistan during his rule, and who still commands the loyalty of many Afghans.

But building such a broad coalition will be extremely difficult.

Another major international player, Russia, has pledged its support to the Northern Alliance. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, also have strong ethnic links with the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance can also argue that it includes the last pre-Taleban government, which is recognised by most of the world as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

It may well not take kindly to the idea of having to share power with people who threw their support in with the despised 'Talibs'.

Weak links

Nor will it be easy for many Pashtun regional leaders to cooperate with the Northern Alliance. Its major figures were unable to unite the country when they were in power, and it is still true that the most obvious thing that unites them is their hatred of the Taleban.

Furthermore the authority of the king, who is 86 years old and has been out of Afghanistan for over a quarter of a century, is probably not what it was.

Yet not all the signs are negative.

Ex-king Zahir Shah
The US has tried to involve ex-king Zahir Shah
One positive factor is the extraordinary ease with which Afghan parties and leaders have often changed sides in the past.

There is a very strong pragmatic streak in most Afghans, and they will often go over to the side which they think offers them the most.

Another positive factor is the tradition of the 'Loya Jirga', or Grand Council, a tradition going back centuries through which the kings consulted tribal and regional leaders.

On these occasions even bitter enemies were able to meet and thrash out a consensus.

It is that sort of willingness to compromise which is now so badly needed in Afghanistan.

See also:

16 Oct 01 | South Asia
US and Pakistan 'share Afghan goal'
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Anti-US protests erupt in Pakistan
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
What next for Afghanistan?
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