Foreign peacekeepers key to hopes of progress as interim government takes office

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 12:00am

Afghanistan's interim administration will be sworn in today with international peacekeepers standing by to ensure a peaceful ceremony, beginning the long haul back to a democracy.

Although today's events are taking place just 11 weeks after the United States began military efforts to remove the Taleban, the road to recovery will not be so straightforward. Only the greatest optimist would say no pitfalls await incoming leader Hamid Karzai and his 29-member cabinet as they attempt to rebuild what 23 years of foreign interference and civil war have destroyed.

But analysts agree the country's hopes lie in peacekeepers ensuring the United Nations-sponsored plan mapped out among Afghan factions is carried out.

Members of the interim administration poised to assume power were reportedly still at loggerheads yesterday over what powers peacekeepers would have. Some were known to be insisting that the multinational force have a role limited to advising the administration on security matters.

The Northern Alliance, in de facto control of Kabul, was said to want the force restricted to 1,000 troops, based outside Kabul and used only in case of need.

At Bagram air base, near Kabul, yesterday, 53 British marines began escorting dignitaries into the city for the ceremonies. They were the first of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops from 16 countries who are expected eventually to be in place around the city.

The British-led force received a UN Security Council mandate on Thursday and will ensure that the interim cabinet's six-month rule - before handing over to a wider administration that will govern for 18 months before elections - is able to work unhampered by security concerns.

To assist with stability, the Interior Ministry yesterday ordered guns off Kabul streets. But armed men were evident hours later.

However, the real concern is over the warlords whose greedy ambitions and private armies have ensured the lack of central rule in Afghanistan. It is these groups, experts warn, who must be reined in. Peacekeepers, if allowed beyond Kabul, would be able to help carry out this role.

For now, though, the military force's strict mandate prevents that. But there is a chance that as Mr Karzai's administration takes hold, the mandate could be widened and extended.

Among the cautious optimists is Anwar Ahady, a professor at Rhode Island's Providence College who hopes to be in the next Afghan government. He turned down the post of transport minister at the Bonn talks earlier this month, arguing that he should get the education portfolio.

The desire existed among key Afghan players in the process for a democratic system to be put into place, he said. 'I think there will be quite a lot of ups and downs, but the international community is quite determined to have this transitional period completed successfully and I think that it will be,' he said.

Islamabad-based analyst Hussein Haqqani agreed pitfalls lay ahead. Five agreements on administrations had collapsed in the past 12 years. One prime minister-in-waiting, he said, had been denied entry to Kabul as he was about to take office. Civil war resulted.

'I think that for the moment things will be under control because of the heavy involvement of international troops,' Mr Haqqani said. 'But Afghanistan does have a history of people making deals and then reneging on them. In this particular instance the deal is not all that clearly spelled out . . . Getting Afghans to agree is one thing; getting them to implement is quite another.'

He agreed peacekeepers were the key to Afghanistan's estimated eight million refugees feeling secure enough to return. Aid workers could also safely distribute to the needy and construction work could take place unhindered.

'I think things will unravel if a major international force is not put in and if the task of disarming militias is not undertaken by an international force,' he said. 'I hope and pray that there is peace, but have seen enough of Afghanistan to know that there will be many slips between the cup of hope and lip of peace.'