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What will the N-Alliance do in our name now? I dread to think...
By Robert Fisk
14/11/2001 7:26 pm Wed
Robert Fisk: What will the Northern Alliance do
in our name now? I dread to think...
'Why do we always have this ambiguous,
dangerous relationship with our allies?'
14 November 2001
It wasn't meant to be like this. The nice, friendly Northern Alliance,
our very own foot-soldiers in Afghanistan, is in Kabul. It promised
- didn't it? - not to enter the Afghan capital. It was supposed to
capture, at most, Mazar-i-Sharif and perhaps Herat, to
demonstrate the weakness of the Taliban, to show the West that its
war aims - the destruction of the Taliban and thus of Osama bin
Laden's al-Qa'ida movement - were inevitable.
The corpse of the old man in the centre of Kabul, executed by our
heroes in the Alliance, was not supposed to be on television. Only
two days ago, Alastair Campbell's 24-hour Washington-London-Islamabad
"communication centre'' was supposed to counter Taliban propaganda.
Now Mr Campbell must set up his team of propagandists in Kabul to fight
the lies of our very own foot-soldiers of the Northern Alliance.
Was it not the US Secretary of State Colin Powell who assured
General Musharraf of Pakistan the Alliance would be kept under
control, that the United Nations' envoy, Lakhdar Ibrahimi, would be
allowed to construct a truly representative government in Kabul to
replace the Taliban?
General Musharraf had promised his support to the United States -
at the risk of his nation and his life - in return for American
promises that Afghanistan would be governed by a truly
representative coalition. Pakistan's air bases, its very support for
the "war on terrorism'', was contingent on Washington's word that
the Northern Alliance would not take over Kabul and impose its
own diktat on Afghanistan.
Yesterday, the pictures from Kabul were almost identical to the
videotapes of April 1992 when the pro-Russians and Communists
were defeated. We saw the same jubilation by the non-Pushtu
population. And within two days, Hekmatyar Gulbeddin began to
bomb the city. The division of ethnic groups plunged the Afghan
capital into civil war. Yesterday, the Alliance was supposed to wait
on the outskirts of the city while the Americans attempted to
construct a workable coalition. But for the present, Afghanistan -
without the Taliban - is a country without a government.
What on earth is going on? And what, for that matter, has
happened to Mr bin Laden? Are we driving him into the mountains
- always supposing he is not already there - or are we pushing
him into the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province of
Pakistan? For without a city, the Taliban themselves will melt back
into their birthplace, the madrassa schools along the Pakistan
border which created the puritan, obscurantist spirit which has
inspired the rulers of Afghanistan these past five years.
The Northern Alliance is advancing, meanwhile, with all its
baggage of massacres and looting and rape intact. We have so
idolised these gunmen, been so infatuated with them, supported
them so unquestioningly, pictured them on television so
deferentially that we are now immune to their history. So, perhaps,
General Rashid Dostum, our hero now that he has recaptured
Mazar-i-Sharif, is in the habit of punishing his soldiers by tying
them to tank tracks and then driving the tanks around his barracks'
square to turn them into mincemeat. You wouldn't have thought
this, would you, when you heard the jubilant reports of General
Dostum's victory on Monday night?
Nor would you have thought, listening to the reports from
Afghanistan yesterday, that the Northern Alliance was responsible
for more than 80 per cent of the drug exports from the country in
the aftermath of the Taliban's prohibition of drug cultivation. I have
a ghostly memory of writing this story before, not about the Taliban
but about the KLA in Kosovo, a guerrilla army which was partly
funded by drugs and which, once its political aspirations had been
met by Nato's occupation of the Serbian province went on to
become "terrorists'' (our former Foreign Secretary's memorable
description) inside Macedonia. True, Nato's wheel of fortune
moves in mysterious ways but it's not difficult to understand how
our allies - praised rather than controlled - follow their own
Why, I wonder, do we always have this ambiguous, dangerous
relationship with our allies? For decades, we accepted the
received wisdom that the "B" specials were a vital security arm of
the Northern Ireland authorities on the grounds that they "knew the
territory" - just as, I fear, we rely upon the Northern Alliance
because it "knows the land".
The Israelis relied upon their Phalangist militia thugs in Lebanon
because the Christian Maronites hated the Palestinians. The Nazis
approved of their Croatian Ustashi murderers in 1941 because the
Ustashi hated the Serbs.
Is this, I ask myself, why the Northern Alliance is our friend? Not
because it is a loyal ally but because it hates the Taliban? Not
because it opposes poverty and destitution and the destruction of
Afghanistan under an Islamic regime but because it says it loathes
Osama bin Laden?
There are brave men in the Alliance, true. Its murdered leader,
Ahmed Shah Massoud, was an honourable man. It's not difficult to
turn our allies into heroes.
But it remains a fact that from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was a symbol of massacre, systematic rape and pillage. Which is why we - and I include the US State Department - welcomed the Taliban when they arrived in Kabul. The Northern Alliance left the city in 1996 with 50,000 dead behind it. Now its members are our foot soldiers. Better than Mr bin Laden, to be sure. But what - in God's name- are they going to do in our name?