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No sooner had Hamid Karzai been named interim prime minister of Afghanistan ... than a U.S. "smart bomb" almost dropped on his head. Related Gully Coverage:

Bombs Over Afghanistan: The Sequel
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Allahdad digs a grave at the Maslakh refugee camp, where more than 200 died from starvation and cold in the last two weeks. Dec. 5, 2001, Afghanistan. Kamran Jebreili
Kabul Not Holding Its Breath

by Chuck 45

DECEMBER 5, 2001. No sooner had Hamid Karzai been named interim prime minister of Afghanistan by the obnoxiously fractious Afghan factions, than a U.S. "smart bomb" almost dropped on his head by mistake. Karzai, 46, everybody's favorite Afghan tribal leader, was not seriously injured.

Karzai was, naturally, not at the princely Bonn hotel overlooking the Rhine where the Afghan faction reps were sequestered for nine days and probably fed boiled cabbage and potatoes 'round the clock until they agreed on something. He was, it was said, fighting the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

An earlier attempt by Karzai to reinforce his warrior credentials ended abruptly in mid-October when a U.S. helicopter had to pluck him from within a swarm of Taliban that threatened to make mince meat out of him.

Could this be an ominous sign from the heavens? When he takes power in Kabul on December 22, at the head of a 29-member interim council that includes two women, Karzai will have to contend with dedicated spoiler Burhannudin Rabbani. The 61-year-old Rabbani, still the nominal head of the Northern Alliance, presided over several years of such unparalleled chaos, brutality and murderous misogyny in Afghanistan that the Taliban were welcomed in 1995 as saviors by most of the population.

Rabbani wants a hard-line "Islamic republic"; his main ally, also disgruntled with the deal on the Rhine, is the rabidly Wahabite (as in the take-no-prisoners Saudi version of Islam) chieftain Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyab.

Because the U.N.-sponsored accord signed by the Rhine castle inmates has more twists and turns than a dyspeptic boa, Rabani and Sayyaf will have plenty of opportunities to obstruct, and even derail, the emergence of the "broad-based, gender-sensitive government" the accord hopes to conjure.

Here's the abridged version: The Karzai administration will rule Afghanistan for the next six months only. A provisional government appointed by a loya jirga, or traditional assembly, will then take over for two years, during which a new constitution will be written. Elections will then be held.

But will Afghanistan hold? Two and a half years of good behavior beginning on December 22 may be a tall order for the Afghan factions.

Rabbani did his best to torpedo today's accord. He backed down only after heavy arm-twisting from Washington and from younger leaders within his own Northern Alliance. Three of them, now occupy key positions in the Karzai administration: Yunis Qanuni is interior minister, Mohammad Fahim is defense minister, and the media-savvy Abdullah Abdullah is foreign minister.

Success or failure in Afghanistan may well depend on how these three behave, and on whether Washington and what is nowadays again being called, "the West," keeps a benign pressure and focus on this tortured country, even as they chase terrorism in other points. In Kabul, an exhausted, skeptical population is not holding its breath.

Related links:

For the full text of the UN-brokered agreement on The New Afghan Government, Bonn, December 5, 2001 (The Times, U.K)

For Human Rights Watch: Afghanistan 2001. Analysis and recommendations.

Testimony from Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA). Includes recommendations for action.

Behind the media veil. Afghan women say what should be done to foster peace.

For Complete Coverage WTC Attack

For Complete Coverage of U.S. politics

For Complete Coverage Asia

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Guide to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on NYC and DC. Includes info on Afghanistan and the Taliban.

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