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From the February 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 2)

Just the Basic Rudiments

The Bonn Accord


The News (left-wing), Karachi, Pakistan, Dec. 6, 2001

After eight grueling days of discussions at the U.N. conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, an agreement was signed on Wednesday by representatives of various Afghan factions, hopefully for peace and stability in a country that has known only violence and suffering for over two decades. It was a historic event by any measure as an accord, albeit fragile and heavily relying on circumstances that currently appear impossible. The agreement, therefore, merits appreciation even if there are reasons to fear that it could run into rough weather given the animosity that pervades the country.

The basic mechanism that has been agreed upon constitutes an Interim Administration or government, which will give way after six months to a Transitional Administration decided upon by an emergency Loya Jirga [traditional Afghan Grand Assembly] that will administer the country until a truly representative government can be elected. This is the somewhat simplified arrangement that is expected to lead Afghanistan back to normality and stability through the historic minefields of ethnic, sectarian, and tribal rivalries, and the social and economic devastation wrought by 23 years of conflict and foreign interference. The rewards that have been promised to the factions if they follow the U.N. script are funds for the reconstruction of the country.

While it can be hoped that all will be well, the agreement has too many weak points that could wreck its implementation. At best it provides the rudiments of a system that will help in setting up the infrastructure of state—constitution, supreme court, judicial commission, civil service, rules and regulations, etc.

But not much has been explained in terms of how the interim administration will impose its decisions in a country where there is absolutely no administration and guns remain the reality. For example, how will the interim government or its successor contend with the born-again warlords who will not easily surrender their authority? It is not clear whether a U.N. mandated international security force will have the teeth to impose the fiat of the government until Afghan security forces are created, given the reluctance of the U.N. to play the role of soldier. The factor that led to the birth of the Taliban was the need to eliminate the warlords who made governance impossible. It is not likely that the regional holders of power like Uzbeks and Hazaras will cede authority. The Northern Alliance will be just as unwilling. The proposed deweaponization and demilitarization of Kabul thus seem to be non-starters.

Another critical test will be the transition of power from the interim government to the transitional government. The strength of representation of the factions recognized the superior positions of the Rome group and the Northern Alliance with the most delegates. The former thus acquired the chairmanship, and the Northern Alliance got three main ministries—defense, interior, and foreign affairs.

The former monarch, King Zahir Shah, will again exercise his royal pleasure in matters of state and in the process retrieve his lost eminence. The Northern Alliance—mainly non-Pashtun—in spite of being the victors of Kabul, will be required to forego their prize. The self-appointed president Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani’s opposition to the proposed structures to be created by the accord exemplified the dissent that exists.

The U.N. mediators’ distribution of the spoils of power temporarily subsumed the opposition, but it is not likely to resolve the problem permanently. The Northern Alliance, being a coalition, will face greater problems from within, unlike the more cohesive king’s party.

It is not known whether the U.N. mediators will provide a copious tome for interpreting the various procedures, structures, and clauses of the agreement and how these will function, as the accord itself is somewhat bereft of the details and annexures that are necessary for such documents. The special representative of the U.N. secretary-general will, if his role is to be interpreted, act as a powerful U.N. man in Afghanistan. But much will depend on how he exercises his authority when he deals with the interim authority, which will be the repository of Afghan sovereignty. The working of the accord is fraught with too many problems due to the large grey areas and its lack of recourse to other sources to fill in those blanks.


 
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