14 November 2001
The Times of India
Alliance takeover of Kabul a setback for US
By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network
New Delhi: After dictating the pace of the war in Afghanistan, the US finds itself overtaken by facts on the ground.
On Sunday, President Bush and General Musharraf told the Northern Alliance not to enter Kabul. But by Tuesday, with the Taliban in disarray, forces loyal to the late Tajik commander, Ahmed Shah Masoud, swept into the Afghan capital to a rapturous welcome from its beleaguered residents, both Pathan and non-Pathan.
By defying Bush, the Northern Alliance has forced Washington to go back to the drawing board. the Bush administration began bombing Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida and overthrow the Taliban but also to ensure a regime is installed there which is close to both Washington and Islamabad.
Since the US is reluctant to station its own armed forces inside Afghanistan, the latter goal would require a proxy power like Pakistan to keep watch over the new government. This in turn requires a regime which has elements friendly to Pakistan. Though President Rabbani of the Northern Alliance is recognised by the UN and most countries as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan, the US is loathe to allow him to return to power. Rabbani is too closely linked to Russia and India. and he is bitterly anti-Pakistani to boot.
As the principal victim of Islamabad’s sponsorship of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance will not allow Pakistan to dictate the nature of the regime which emerges in Kabul. The US-sponsored political process around former Afghan King Zahir Shah has not produced any results. Now that Kabul, Mazar and Herat are in the hands of the Northern Alliance, Rabbani has less incentive to play ball. His principal backer, Russia, always considered the Zahir Shah process to be ‘‘extra-constitutional’’.
With the Northern Alliance already in Kabul, there is no reason for moscow to muddy the political waters. It might still try and broad-base the regime, but this time on Rabbani’s terms, not Pakistan’s or Washington’s.