The Afghan central government has deployed police in northern Afghanistan following clashes between rival factions of the former Northern Alliance. RFE/RL reports on efforts to bring an end to the recurring battles between the militia forces of ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik field commander Atta Mohammad.
Prague, 13 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- About 300 police officers from Kabul have been deployed in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif to help monitor a cease-fire between the forces of two feuding warlords.
The police force is token in size compared to the tens of thousands of militiamen loyal to each of the warlords -- ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik field commander Atta Mohammad.
And yet, the deployment has enormous symbolic significance because it appears to signal the start of a serious effort by Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and his international backers to extend the authority of the Afghan central government.
RFE/RL correspondent Zohra Safi was monitoring developments in and around Mazar-i-Sharif on 11 October when Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and British officials met with the militia leaders.
"There was a meeting that included Jalali, Dostum, Atta Mohammad, the British ambassador to Afghanistan and members of the [British] Provincial Reconstruction Team [based in Mazar-i-Sharif]. These meetings were held behind closed doors," Safi said.
Safi quoted Jalali as saying the meeting included discussions on a broad plan from Karzai's Transitional Administration aimed at bringing about what he called "fundamental changes in the military and administrative positions" in the north.
Safi also reports that both Dostum and Mohammad signed an agreement on 11 October to extend their shaky cease-fire into other areas that have suffered from factional violence since the collapse of the Taliban regime nearly two years ago. Those areas include the provinces of Balkh, Samangan, Jowzjan, Sar-i-Pul, and Faryab.
Dostum and Mohammed last signed an initial cease-fire on 9 October that involved only their private militia forces close to Mazar-i-Sharif. That deal came after a fierce tank and artillery battle advanced to within 20 kilometers of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Some reports say as many as 60 militia fighters were killed. The UN mission in Afghanistan could not confirm the exact number killed but says there was a "high number" of casualties.
Meanwhile, Western correspondents in Afghanistan report that implementation of the 11 October wider truce already appears to be in trouble due to allegations of fresh fighting in the Sar-i-Pul Province.
Interior Minister Jalali told RFE/RL that officials from both the UN and the British military also have reported violations of the cease-fire but that he remains optimistic.
"When I heard the reports by the [British] Provincial Reconstruction Team and the United Nations people, it became clear that in general the cease-fire is being implemented. But in some places, there are problems. These fighters [from both sides] have withdrawn from their fighting positions, and everybody has promised that they would work together to resolve their problems," Jalali said.
Earlier truces between the rival forces during the last two years have fallen apart. Residents of the tense northern provinces express fears that the latest agreement also will collapse.
Western diplomats say they hope the deal will stay in place long enough to start implementing a series of international efforts aimed at disarming rival militias and bringing some of their fighters into an internationally trained Afghan National Army.
A long-delayed UN disarmament program for northern Afghanistan is due to begin in the next 10 days.
At United Nations headquarters in New York, members of the UN Security Council have indicated they will approve a new resolution on Afghanistan as soon as the end of this month. The new UN resolution reportedly would authorize the first deployment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into areas outside of the Afghan capital.
The UN also is expected to approve a proposal from Berlin to send several hundred German soldiers to the base of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. That city, which has a significant ethnic Pashtun community, lies directly to the east of Mazar-i-Sharif.