The tide of the war appears to have turned dramatically in favour of the Northern Alliance over the past few days, with the capture of the key towns of Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat, as well as a clutch of smaller towns in northern Afghanistan. Unfortunately, these developments on the battlefield do not really appear to have brought the conflict in Afghanistan any closer to an end. The Taleban still remain in power in Kabul and still control the southern half of the country. They will probably continue to do so until a credible alternative government can be found. Also, Osama bin Laden, the target of the US attacks, still remains defiantly at large, even though his network of training camps has been destroyed. A political stalemate has prevented the formation of an alternative to the Taleban. The motley assortment of anti-Taleban groups which have formed the Northern Alliance are united only in their opposition to the ruling militia. The groups have shown little sign of being able to work together as a government. Also, a government consisting only of the Northern Alliance would be unworkable in the long run, since the Pashtuns, who form the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, are under-represented in the Alliance. Attempts to form a coalition under the former king, Zahir Shah, have not succeeded after more than a month of diplomatic efforts. If the war in Afghanistan is to be ended as soon as possible, it is vital that the international community, acting through the United Nations, act speedily to put together an interim government to replace the Taleban. The countries neighbouring Afghanistan will have to be closely involved in this effort, because the new interim regime will have to be acceptable to its neighbours. Otherwise, those countries will be tempted to undermine the new government, as has happened so often in the past. With the opposition to the Taleban divided, the United Nations should ideally form an interim administration and create conditions for an elected government to be formed. But this too is easier said than done. A United Nations administration would still require the support of the Northern Alliance as well as other groups in the country. Without that, it would find itself fighting a guerilla war against opposition groups rather than rebuilding the country. There is also the question of finding bin Laden who, judging by an interview he gave to a Pakistani journalist, appears to be in no hurry to throw in the towel. Even assuming that the Northern Alliance, and through it US special forces, is given a free run of Afghanistan, it could take many months to track down the leader of al-Qaeda. Despite the recent victories of the Northern Alliance, we still seem to be looking at a conflict with no discernable end.