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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 17:56 GMT
Pitfalls of peacekeeping
Afghan girls cross a cemetery in Kabul
Afghans have pleaded for a peacekeeping force
Paul Reynolds

Assembling an international peacekeeping force for Afghanistan is requiring almost as much diplomacy as the Bonn conference which set up the interim government.

And some quick footwork will be needed to get the first elements of the force in place by the time the new government takes over on 22 December.


The Americans are not interested in peacekeeping; they are busy fighting the war

It is likely that the force will be made up of two parts. There will be a small, initial deployment, perhaps of a few hundred troops from a handful of countries and perhaps in Kabul only at first.

This would be followed later by larger numbers from a wider number of countries.

And there will have to be a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. This could be agreed within days.

The first wave of troops could come from the UK, France and Germany, which have soldiers who can be moved quickly.

Colin Powell
Mr Powell says the US will help if the peacekeepers face danger

Britain has offered to provide the leadership and has a headquarters unit on standby, along with a detachment of paratroopers.

The Americans are not interested in peacekeeping - they are busy fighting the war.

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell is understood to have given the UK prime minister an assurance that American assets could be used if the peacekeepers find themselves in danger.

World's eye

Sorting out the exact orders for the force is also taking time.

They will probably not wear the traditional blue berets of the United Nations, but will instead be a multinational force under UN mandate. They will not fight nor intervene.

Certainly, one of the force's roles will be to guard the new government and show that the world is watching.

Peacekeeping troops
There is a debate over which countries would contribute troops

It needs to give reassurance to those taking part - perhaps those who have been in exile - that it is safe to return and work.

And this leads to the next issue. The Northern Alliance is saying that the force should be as small as possible and perhaps limited to guarding government buildings.

And the alliance has cast doubt on a clause in the Bonn agreement which says that local Afghan forces should withdraw from urban centres where the UN force is deployed.

It is saying that it is ready to provide security in Kabul and other cities. This has the potential for argument.

Islamic force

Later, it is hoped that troops from mainly Islamic countries will provide the main body of troops.

They could include Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Jordan.

Who will be in overall charge has yet to be decided.

If it is the UK, then would those other countries want to take part, given that British special forces are actually taking part in the fighting?


It is amazing that there have not been more issues, given the history of conflict in Afghanistan

Britain might not be seen as impartial. Nor would France, which has sent an aircraft carrier to the region.

Turkey might provide its own issue. Most Turks are Muslims, but the Turkish state and military are resolutely non-religious, a tradition going back to Kemal Attaturk.

It might not want to be labelled a "Muslim" force.

Timetable

The timetable is also a problem. Maybe the initial force would stay for only three months or so, handing over to the larger group for the next period.

None of the problems need be a real stumbling block.

These kind of questions are always raised when UN forces are deployed.

And it is amazing that there have not been more issues, given the history of conflict in Afghanistan.

See also:

11 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN upbeat on Kabul peacekeepers
08 Dec 01 | South Asia
The challenge of Afghan peacekeeping
16 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bringing stability to Afghanistan
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