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Afghanistan: New Diplomatic Push Aims To End Factional Fights

A new diplomatic push is under way to resolve factional fighting between rivals within Afghanistan's former Northern Alliance. The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, as well as the Russian and U.S. ambassadors in Kabul, met during the weekend with leaders of the two factions whose troops have clashed sporadically across six northern Afghan provinces since the fall of the Taliban regime.

Prague, 28 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A delegation of U.S. diplomats visited the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif during the weekend in a bid to quell factional fighting that has plagued much of northern Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime.

The U.S. delegation included President George W. Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn.

Radio Free Afghanistan's correspondent in Mazar-i-Sharif, Faizullah Qardash, reports that Khalilzad expressed satisfaction about his talks with the commanders: ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik commander Ustad Atta Mohammad. "First, Mr. Khalilzad met with General Abdul Rashid Dostum and later on, he visited Atta Mohammad for talks about the security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif, political developments and the formation of an Afghan national army."

When asked by RFE/RL in Kabul today about the talks, Khalilzad clarified that the main security concern is the ongoing fighting between troops of Dostum and Ustad Atta, as well as the protection of ethnic minorities who suffer at the hands of their paramilitary troops.

At a press conference today in Kabul, Khalilzad said both Dostum and Ustad Atta had promised to cooperate with the central government of Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai. He said they also would do their best to try to end the fighting between their troops.

But when asked whether a time frame for an end of fighting had been established, Khalilzad said only that the factional commanders wanted to resolve the situation "as soon as possible."

Khalilzad also stressed today that the fighting in northern Afghanistan often appears to break out without any orders from either Ustad Atta or General Dostum. He said battles often are instigated by lower-level field commanders who may have their own personal agendas and vendettas.

Khalilzad said what is now needed is for all of Afghanistan's factional commanders to clarify their positions and declare whether or not they want to be members of Karzai's central government.

Our correspondent in Mazar-i-Sharif reports that both Dostum and Ustad Atta also met separately yesterday with Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan, Mikhail Aleksi. Those talks reportedly focused on Russian aid to northern Afghanistan and a proposal to open a Russian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Foreign governments pledging aid to Afghanistan have said in the past that the delivery of reconstruction funds to the northern part of the country could be threatened by ongoing factional fighting between the forces of Dostum and Atta.

The weekend's diplomatic push follows a warning issued last week by President Karzai that he will sack regional officials whose greed and territorial ambitions threaten the stability of the country.

It also follows the admission by a United Nations spokesman in Kabul that a joint UN-Afghan commission -- set up in April to ensure stability and end outbreaks of fighting in the north -- has not been able to broker a lasting cease-fire.

Fighting between the troops of Dostum and Ustad Atta dates back to the days of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan when Dostum was part of communist Afghanistan's National Army and was allied with Soviet forces.

With Afghan mujahedin fighters traditionally using guerrilla-warfare techniques as opposed to the tactics of larger conventional armies, their battles are best described as hit-and-run clashes.

The continued use of those Afghan guerrilla tactics has given a sporadic appearance to the series of ongoing battles fought by troops of Dostum and Ustad Atta since the Taliban was ousted from power.

The battles also are complicating the humanitarian situation in the north of the country -- not only delaying the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees but also forcing ethnic minority groups to flee.

The UN said earlier this month that troops from both sides of the Dostum-Atta dispute appear to be targeting civilians from ethnic minority groups in order scare them from their homes.

In one of the worst cases this year, the UN says scores of ethnic Pashtun families were forced to flee their homes as their villages were burned by the paramilitary factions.

Western diplomats and other foreign observers have expressed concern that the ongoing fighting in the north, as well as other factional battles in the west and southeast of Afghanistan, could deteriorate into an all-out civil war.

The U.S. State Department's latest report on human rights in Afghanistan, which was published early this year, warns that rivals within the former Northern Alliance have a long history of infringing upon the basic rights of Afghan citizens.

The report says armed troops, local commanders, and rogue individuals from the former Northern Alliance have been responsible for political killings, kidnapping for ransom, torture, rape, arbitrary detentions, and looting.

The report says that in many areas controlled by the Northern Alliance during the Taliban era, the perpetrators of killings and their motives have been difficult to identify. That is because, according to the U.S. State Department, the political motives of former Northern Alliance faction leaders often are entwined with family and tribal feuds, battles over the drug trade, and personal vendettas.

Karzai last week told a meeting of a judicial committee in Kabul that factional commanders responsible for violence across the country often put their own personal interests ahead of what is good for Afghanistan. "These people who violate are rich already. They are not poor. They are greedy and they [use their troops and roadblocks to] collect money, collect more money and collect more money. They don't care about the blood of children and women and the people of Afghanistan. They are getting fat because of the blood of the Afghan people. And still, they don't have mercy."

Karzai said that if he does not sack regional officials behind the violence, he would be breaking his key promise made to the Afghan people last June when the Loya Jirga confirmed him as president of the Transitional Authority. "We tolerated [such violations] for six months of the interim administration, saying that the Loya Jirga would come. Now the Loya Jirga has been completed. I promised this nation that we would bring peace and security and justice to the people of this nation after the Loya Jirga, and that we would bring in a very healthy government. But in some instances, there is no peace, no justice, and no security because of these people who I have employed by my own signature. Everybody should hear that if God is willing, I will sit and talk with them. And if they continue [with such violations], I will have to fire them."

Khalilzad's trip to Mazar-i-Sharif followed a battle last week between troops of Dostum and Ustad Atta in the nearby Char Kant area that left at least six combatants dead.

(RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this story.)