Afghanistans future debated in Bonn

The United Nations convened its first formal talks on a post-Taliban transitional government in Afghanistan Nov. 27. Much of the world, including the Afghan people, is focusing its hope on these talks, being held in Bonn, Germany. They provide a stark to George W. Bush’s pledge to widen the war against terrorism.

Many human rights and humanitarian aid organizations are urging the delegates in Bonn – representatives of four Afghan political groups – to keep the needs of the Afghan people foremost in their negotiations. “The fate of tens of thousands of ordinary people rests at the meeting in Bonn,” said Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking.

Amnesty International called for the parties to approve the deployment of human rights monitors throughout Afghanistan as soon as possible.

“At this critical moment the human rights of the Afghan people must come first,” the group said. “Those entrusted with leadership must be persons of integrity committed to the human rights protection of all.”

Many remain critical of the Northern Alliance, which holds a majority of the seats in Bonn, as many of the groups in it have been guilty of human rights abuses and oppression of women.

Many women’s rights groups around the world, including in the U.S., have been lobbying to guarantee that Afghan women are represented both at this week’s talks and in any future administration. Any government, they say, will not be stable unless everyone is represented, including women.

The Northern Alliance, supported by the Bush administration and U.S. armed forces, has military control over much of Afghanistan and has rejected a U.N. proposal regarding a post-Taliban security force saying, “There is security in place.”

Though Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of the Northern Alliance, said Nov. 25 that he was willing to hand over power to an agreed-upon interim administration, he expressed his feeling that he is the leading candidate to be the head of that administration. However,

This came days after approximately 1,000 U.S. Marines entered Afghanistan. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, special forces and military advisors have been sent by the Pentagon to work with the Northern Alliance. In addition, the CIA is reportedly running paramilitary units made up chiefly of “non-uniformed U.S. veterans” (commonly known as mercenaries).

As of Nov. 28, the Bonn delegates appeared to be nearing an agreement that would place exiled former King Mohammad Zaher Shah at the head of the interim administration. The former king is widely seen as a unifying force among the Afghan people.

Many involved in humanitarian efforts have been skeptical of the current role of the Northern Alliance and U.S. military in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“The sudden expansion of Northern Alliance territories ... actually stopped the food convoys from Pakistan and Iran for several days because truck drivers are reluctant to travel into a militarily volatile situation,” said Jim Jennings, president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization.

“Meanwhile, the humanitarian effort is losing precious days, a critical factor because of the onset of winter. For every day lost now, some people will die down the line.”

Both Doctors Without Borders and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees have warned that the situation has deteriorated within Afghanistan over the past two months. This has been evidenced by the increased numbers of malnourished children arriving at refugee camps. Large parts of the population are dependent on international aid, which they have not been receiving.

Meanwhile, hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid is piling up on the ground in Uzbekistan, further complicating the already severe and chaotic humanitarian situation. Afghanistan’s food problems won’t go away when the fighting stops because the land mines that riddle the country will plague distribution efforts, international aid officials say.

Many groups have reported widespread banditry and looting of food convoys and warehouses. “The U.S. military should pressure its allies to allow free movement to Afghans and to U.N. and private relief agencies,” said Sarah Zaidi, Center for Economic and Social Rights research director, currently in Pakistan.

“Ensuring that thousands of Afghans do not starve to death this winter is both a moral imperative and a human rights obligation for all parties who have contributed to the crisis – including the United States.”