Afghanistan: June 3, 2002

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Once the Taliban collapsed in late 2001, various warlords quickly rushed in to take over. Often these were the same warlords that the Taliban had chased out (or underground) five years earlier. By early 2002, three warlords controlled most of the north and western portions of the country. The south and east, full of Pushtun tribes, are controlled by a shifting line of up local tribal chiefs and warlords.

Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum's controls the northern part of the country around Mazar-e Sharif (Faryab, Jawzjan, Balkh, Sari Pul and Samangan provinces, plus some territory near Kabul).

Tajik warlord Mohammed Daoud, a supporter of former president Burhannuddin Rabbani, controls the city of Kunduz, and the provinces in the northeastern corner of the country. Actually, Daoud is the strongest member of a coalition of Tajik warlords. One of their number is Mohammed Daoud Fahim, the defense minister of the interim government.

Most of western Afghanistan is controlled by Tajik warlord Ismail Khan. He was the popular governor of Herat (city and province) before the Taliban drove him out. Soon after the United States got involved in the war between the Taliban and Northern Alliance, Khan returned from exile in Iran and organized a fighting force from tribes loyal to him. While there are many Pushtuns in western Afghanistan, most everyone speaks Dari (a dialect of the Iranian language, Farsi) as a first or second language. Western Afghanistan has been heavily influenced (or ruled) by Iran. 

The eastern, southeastern and southern provinces (along the Pakistan border) are where the drug and smuggling money is and no one warlord is really in control. This region is nearly all Pushtun, and many of these tribes supported the Pakistani based Pushtun Taliban. Most of the Taliban leaders belonged to one Pushtun tribe or another in this area. Chaos among the Pushtun tribes is what played a large role in creating the chaos that gave rise to the Taliban in the first place. Comprising 40 percent of Afghanistan's population, and with even more Pushtun kinsmen across the border in Pakistan, the Pushtuns have long felt that they should be in charge. The problem is which particular Pushtun tribe will be in charge of the Pushtuns. The other minorities in Afghanistan have less of a problem getting behind one of their own, if that warlord seems capable of keeping the Pushtuns at bay.

And as if the infighting among Pushtun tribal chieftains was not enough, there are still former Taliban leaders out in the hills, with a following among the Pushtun tribes. And then there's Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pushtun and a former leader of the Afghan fight against the Russians in the 1980s. Hekmatyar was the most religiously conservative of the warlords who led the war against the Russians. While sharing a lot of the Taliban's conservative religious and social views, Hekmatyar made himself unpopular in the early 1990s by destroying most of Kabul with rocket and artillery fire (because he was not given a high enough position in the post-Russian government.) When the Taliban showed up, Hekmatyar fled to Iran. But once the Taliban government fell, Hekmatyar began calling for all Afghans to rise up and fight against foreign troops operating in Afghanistan. This was too much even for the religiously conservative Iranians, and Hekmatyar was asked to leave. So Hekmatyar returned to Afghanistan, where he is protected by Pushtun tribes that share his views. It's possible that Hekmatyar could lead a Pushtun coalition against the new government, or he could ally himself with pro-Taliban tribes for the same purpose.

 

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