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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 15:23 GMT
Analysis: Trying for peace in Afghanistan
UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi
A complicated task lies ahead of Mr Brahimi
Daniel Lak

The United Nations is redoubling its efforts to set up a broad-based government in Kabul as an alternative to both the Taleban and the Northern Alliance.

Its special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been briefing the Security council on a series of proposals and his deputy, Francesc Vendrell, is planning to go to Kabul soon.

UN peace initiatives in the past have always fallen foul of insincerity among the Afghan parties and meddling by neighbouring states

What is already being called the Brahimi plan is not new. Nor is it unworkable in theory.

But UN peace initiatives in the past have always fallen foul of insincerity among the Afghan parties and meddling by neighbouring states.

Mr Brahimi knows this better than most.

He resigned as special UN political envoy in 1999, citing just those factors as major hindrances to his work.

The UN first got involved in the Afghan quagmire in 1988.

Mujahideen leader Sibghatullah Mojaddedi in 1987
Mujahideen representatives were not involved in the first UN-brokered deal

Then - in Geneva - the world body helped broker a deal to end the Afghan war of the day.

The participants were the Soviet Union, the Communist government of Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan.

Absent were representatives of the various mujahideen rebel forces backed by the West, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

That agreement set a timetable for withdrawal of occupying forces and spoke of a peace process that would lead to a broad-based Afghan government.

But Moscow made sure that its proxy regime in Kabul stayed intact long after it left, and mujahideen disunity ensured that.

Only the withdrawal part of the Geneva accord was ever observed to the letter.

Eventually, the rebels were at the gates of Kabul and UN efforts to establish a transitional regime intensified.

Pakistani presence

Special representative Benon Sevon was leading UN efforts at the time but he was often at odds with the Pakistani authorities.

Observers said Islamabad - despite civilian rule under first Benazir Bhutto, then Nawaz Sharif - continued to put Afghan policy in the hands of shadowy intelligence agencies and the army.

Pakistan stepped in forcibly in 1992 in the dying days of the Kabul Communist regime, which by then was trying desperately to reshape itself as a liberal coalition of non-mujahideen groups.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
Former Prime Minister Bhutto left Afghan policy to the army

Islamabad oversaw an agreement worked out in Peshawar that set up a power-sharing formula among the main mujahideen rebel groups that assumed - correctly - that the Kabul administration's days were numbered.

Famously in March of 1992, Pakistani Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif led a convoy of mujahideen leaders into Kabul to install the new administration.

The plan was a revolving presidency among former rebel leaders while armed fighters were to be turned into police or have weapons decommissioned.

There was however just one transition between leaders.

When Islamic scholar Burhannudin Rabbani took power , a civil war broke out between his supporters - led by the late Ahmed Shah Masood - and Pakistan-backed guerrillas under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

An estimated 25,000 people - largely civilians - had died in that fighting by the end of 1993.

All around the country shifting front lines and local warlords created violent mayhem every bit as bad as people had endured under Soviet occupation.

Kabul, too, saw daily bloodbaths as gunmen fought from street to street, and rockets rained down on schools, hotels and homes.

Squabble for power

Into this quagmire the UN sent a succession of international envoys. All failed.

A Taleban fighter
The Taleban were initially welcomed as restorers of law and order
Similarly another Pakistani attempt at arranging power sharing - the Islamabad accord of March 1993 - was stillborn.

The reasons were familiar. Those in power avoided sharing it. Those out of power did not disarm.

Neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, continued to play by their own rules, despite UN calls for an end to interference in Afghan affairs.

The Taleban changed everything. From a students' militia recruited to guard trade convoys in 1994, they spread throughout most of the country.

At first they brought peace and punishment for criminals and warlords.

An international peacekeeping force might also make a difference - Afghanistan's future depends on it

Later, their harsh version of Islam and the return of the warlord system alienated their supporters almost everywhere.

Nor did the Taleban even pay lip service to supporting UN peace efforts in the late 1990s, despite early backing from the world body for the Islamist militia and its policy of disarming local fighters.

Mr Brahimi's resignation in 1999 was the low point of the UN process in Afghanistan.

Now, with the Taleban collapsing almost everywhere and their opponents triumphant but without a blueprint for the future, the UN and Mr Brahimi must again return to centre stage in the war-ravaged ruins of Afghanistan.

Perhaps, this time, international media and committed foreign governments will keep the Afghan parties sincere and neighbouring countries benign.

An international peacekeeping force might also make a difference.

Afghanistan's future depends on it.

See also:

14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Race to fill Afghan power vacuum
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan wants UN force in Kabul
12 Nov 01 | Americas
Powers search for Afghan settlement
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The Taleban collapse
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Concern over Afghan massacre reports
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