Lawrence Kaplan asks why the State Department won’t give the Northern Alliance its due. Contrary to widely held fears that the US would ignore the past crimes of the Northern Alliance, we’ve in fact been obsessed with them since the war in Afghanistan began. While I have utmost respect for organizations like RAWA that are fighting for the human rights of Afghanis, you can’t change the fact that the Northern Alliance is responsible for liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban. They’ve also largely avoided the crimes against humanity that marked their past rule, and have done a better job than conquering forces in most tinpot countries at maintaining order and stabilizing the places that they’ve liberated (yes, I use that loaded term intentionally). Kaplan says that most fears of the Northern Alliance were sown by Pakistan:
“What you’re seeing now is the same [State Department] hand-wringing that held up the bombing [of northern Taliban positions],” complained one senior administration official on the day Kabul fell. “The arguments never change.” What were those arguments? First, State Department officials argue that the last time the Northern Alliance had a say in governing the country–prior to the Taliban’s seizure of the capital in 1996–it made a hash of things, most notably Kabul, which it all but leveled. The second argument holds that were the minority-dominated Northern Alliance to march south of Kabul, the Pashtuns would recoil into the arms of the Taliban. And the third and final argument is that if Afghanistan falls into the hands of the Alliance, it could destabilize Pakistan.
None of these arguments entirely holds up–perhaps because all three originate from Pakistan, which loathes the Northern Alliance. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s insistence that “[i]f the Northern Alliance enters Kabul, we’ll see the same kind of atrocities against the people there”–a claim U.S. officials have been regurgitating daily–is largely contrived. To begin with, the destruction of Kabul in the mid-1990s was to a great extent the work of Pakistan’s own client, the Pashtun leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who killed thousands of residents and shelled the city into dust after breaking with the Northern Alliance’s Ahmed Shah Massoud. And since the capture of Kabul this week, we have seen little evidence of the widespread atrocities predicted by Pakistan. To be sure, there have been isolated cases of the Alliance meting out rough and violent justice to Arab and Pakistani cadres. But, for the moment at least, Kabul is a city celebrating its liberation with music, kite-flying, and discarded burqas.