Browse Topics

Services

Programs

Building a New Nation in Afghanistan
An Essay by NPR's Daniel Schorr

audio Listen to Schorr's essay.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr

Oct. 8, 2001 -- "We're not into nation building," said President Bush -- most recently, only two weeks ago. But already, his administration is deeply engaged in trying to create some combination of rival ethnic groups to govern Afghanistan after the expected disintegration of the Taliban.

The administration is contemplating a mind-boggling array of tenuous groupings with shifting loyalties. There are: the Pushtuns, who have dominated the Taliban with Pakistani support; there is the non-Pushtun Northern Alliance, often internally divided, and now without it charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who died as a result of a suicide bombing on September 9th. There are various minorities like the Tajiks and the Uzbeks.

If and when the Taliban collapses, the Northern Alliance is ready to move into the capital of Kabul and create an interim government. But Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf is worried about a hostile regime on his border. He has obtained assurance from British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- which Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to reinforce on a trip to Pakistan this week -- that the new regime will be broad-based and will include Pushtuns.

"After 20 years of war, Afghanistan hardly knows what peace looks like. And President Bush, who campaigned against nation building, may now find himself called upon to help build a nation."

Daniel Schorr

Seeking to keep the Northern Alliance from dominating the process, the State Department has checked out the exiled former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. The Bush administration is inclined to support him as he's centerpiece for a gathering of Afghan elders and notables that would create a regime representing all anti-Taliban elements. Musharraf said today that a new order in Afghanistan must ensure unity and stability of Afghanistan and bring peace over there.

But if the Taliban collapses and there is a power vacuum in Kabul, the Northern Alliance may be hard to stop. Its civilian leader, Abdullah, holds the title of foreign minister in the government that the Taliban ousted in 1996, which is still recognized by the United Nations.

After 20 years of war, Afghanistan hardly knows what peace looks like. And President Bush, who campaigned against nation building, may now find himself called upon to help build a nation.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.