Alliance cements control over Kabul as jubilant residents celebrate Taliban
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans brought their radios out of hiding and played music in the streets, savoring the end of five years of harsh Taliban rule as the northern alliance marched triumphantly into Afghanistan’s capital Tuesday. Diplomats sought U.N. help in fashioning a government for the shattered country.
American jets still prowled the skies in the south, seeking out convoys of Taliban fighters retreating toward Kandahar, the Islamic militants’ last major stronghold. Strikes also targeted caves where members of terror suspect Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network were thought to be hiding.
Alliance troops celebrated the capture of the prize they had been fighting for since they were driven out by the Taliban in 1996. A small number of U.S. troops were on hand to advise them.
The dizzying cascade of events in Afghanistan turned the opposition into the country’s chief power overnight — and brought to the forefront the issue of ensuring that it shares power. The United States and its allies want a government that includes groups the ethnic minorities that make up the alliance and the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.
The alliance leaders said they had deployed 3,000 security troops across Kabul to bring order — not to occupy it — and insisted they were committed to a broad-based goverment.
The alliance foreign minister, Abdullah, invited all Afghan factions — except the Taliban — to come to Kabul to negotiate on the country’s future. The top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan outlined a plan for a two-year transitional government with a multinational security force.
Abdullah’s words were reiterated by Burhanuddin Rabbani, the alliance leader and Afghanistan’s deposed president, who also said he expected to return to Kabul on Wednesday.
“There is no room for the Taliban” in any political settlement in Afghanistan, Rabbani told Qatari-based Al-Jazeera television.
In Washington, President Bush said the United States was working with the alliance to ensure they “respect the human rights of the people they are liberating” and recognize “that a future government must include a representative from all of Afghanistan.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said a “small number” of U.S. troops were in Kabul, advising the alliance. He told journalists at the Pentagon that the troops were not enough to police the city or prevent retaliation by the opposition.
Bush said there was “great progress” in the campaign launched Oct. 7 to uproot al-Qaida and punish the Taliban for harboring bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September terror attacks on the United States.
In the streets of Kabul, thousands of people celebrated, honking car horns and ringing bicycle bells. They flouted the strict version of Islamic law imposed by the Taliban that regulated almost every aspect of life, down to banning shaving and music.
“I used to play this at home, but very quietly and then I would check to see if anyone was outside,” Abdul Rehman said as he turned up the volume on his cassette tape recorder blaring out the music of his favorite Afghan folk singer.
Zul Gai, the owner of a barber shop lined up with men looking to lose their beards, smiled broadly. “This has been my best business day in many long years,” he said.
Most women, however, were too cautious to shed their all-encompassing burqas, unsure what the new rules would be.
Hundreds of northern alliance troops hunted down lingering Taliban and foreigners who came to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida. At least 11 Arabs and Pakistanis were slain and their bodies mutilated.
Alliance fighters roamed the streets in taxis, pickup trucks and cars, brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and grenade launchers. Troops set up roadblocks in neighborhoods where Arabs and Pakistanis lived.
Five Pakistanis, who were firing randomly from trees in a public park, were killed by alliance soldiers. A Red Cross official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bodies were in pieces when volunteers removed them for burial.
Four Arabs died when their pickup truck was blasted by a rocket. Their charred bodies were dragged from their vehicle by residents who kicked and poked at them. Two other Arabs were killed outside a military base near the U.N. guest house.
As they fled Kabul, the Taliban took with them two Americans and six other foreign aid workers jailed since August for allegedly preaching Christianity in Muslim Afghanistan. They were reportedly taken to the southern city of Kandahar.
There were signs of a breakdown of Taliban control in Kandahar — the birthplace of the hardline Islamic movement.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an armed force of Pashtuns were moving against the Taliban near Kandahar. The official would not elaborate.
At least 200 Pashtun fighters mutinied in Kandahar, and fighting broke out by the city’s airport, said a Taliban official, Mullah Najibullah, at the Pakistani border at Chaman.
Abdullah said the situation in Kandahar was “chaotic.” He said “Taliban authorities are not seen. … There is no responsible authority to respond to the needs of the people.”
Another American official in Washington said there were conflicting reports about who holds the Kandahar airport, as well as unconfirmed reports that the Taliban have largely abandoned Kandahar.
The Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, made a radio address denouncing deserters and urging his followers to fight, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported.
“This is my order: that you should obey your commander,” Omar said, according to the agency. Deserters “would be like a hen and die in some ditch.” The agency quoted him as saying he was in Kandahar, though that could not be independently verified.
The U.S. offiical said the Taliban were in disarray in several areas in the south. Field commanders were fleeing and some were switching sides, the official said. There were signs the Taliban were abandoning cities, possibly to fight a guerrilla war from the mountains.
Before northern alliance security forces entered Kabul at midday, armed gangs ransacked the offices of international humanitarian organizations and the Pakistan embassy in reprisal for that government’s longtime support of the Taliban.
By the afternoon, alliance military police arrived in the city and began to restore order. Guards were stationed in front of government and international aid offices.
After a series of lightning victories by the alliance across northern Afghanistan since Friday, the United States had urged the alliance not to enter Kabul until a multiethnic government could be formed.
But Monday night, with alliance forces on the city’s edge, Taliban columns began pulling out and retreating south. By sunrise, they were gone.
Abdullah, the alliance foreign minister, said the alliance had no choice but to send in a force to maintain security because “irresponsible” elements in the city were distubing the peace.
But he said the alliance wanted U.N. help in negotiating a new government.
“We invite all Afghan groups to participate, to come to Kabul … to speed up the negotiations about the future of Afghanistan,” he said. “We have also invited the United Nations to send their teams in Kabul in order to help us in the peace process.”
The alliance is made up largely of ethnic minorities, particularly Tajiks and Uzbeks. Its factions nearly wrecked the capital with infighting, killing some 50,000 people when they last held Kabul, from 1992 to 1996.
The fall of Kabul set off alarm bells in neighboring Pakistan, which is a key ally in the U.S. anti-Taliban campaign but has long had hostile relations with the northern alliance. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the United Nations should send in a peacekeeping force made up of Muslim nations and said Pakistan and Turkey could contribute.
Meanwhile, Taliban control was crumbling, although reports were sketchy and difficult to confirm. Sources in Jalalabad, contacted by telephone from Pakistan, said anti-Taliban forces had taken over the northeastern city. Abdullah said there was a “popular uprising” there.
Taliban guards abandoned the border station at Torkham on the main road from Kabul to Peshawar, Pakistan.
The collapse of Taliban control began Friday when the northern alliance captured the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, 45 miles south of Uzbekistan.
U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said in Islamabad on Tuesday that alliance troops had killed 100 Taliban fighters hiding in a school in Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday, and there were ongoing reports of reprisals.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its workers in Mazar-e-Sharif were burying victims of the violence “by the hundreds.”
The U.N. envoy, Brahimi, called for a meeting as soon as possible between the northern alliance and other factions to agree on the framework for a transition to a new government.