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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 11:32 GMT
Optimism over peacekeeping force
Afghans are hoping to put 20 years of war behind them
By the BBC's Ian MacWilliam in Kabul

Afghanistan's newly-created International Security Assistance Force will demonstrate the global community's backing for the new government, and its interest in ensuring a peaceful transfer of power in the post-Taleban era.

The British Royal Marines will be the first visible elements of the international presence in Afghanistan, which was agreed at talks in Germany, in parallel with plans for the interim government.

There is a great faith that many of Afghanistan's problems can be resolved if there is a sustained interest from the international community

Ultimately, the contingent could comprise as many as 5,000 troops, from several nations.

There has been some concern about the likely reception for these foreign troops in a country which has always been fiercely independent.

But for most Kabul residents there is little doubt that the presence of an international force would help to reassure them that the world will not allow factional fighting to ruin their hopes of peace once more.

Factional squabbles

In the early 1990s when mujahideen groups captured Kabul as the Soviet-backed government collapsed, at least four different factions seized parts of the city.

Fighting soon broke out as a result of the rivalry between two main leaders - the Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massood, and the Pushtun party leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces shelled Kabul in the mid 1990s

Kabul may well have been saved from another round of murderous factionalism this time by the fact that all of Kabul is under the control of just one group - the Northern Alliance.

Nevertheless, with many armed men serving different local commanders, Kabulis fear the possible outbreak of further turf wars. The presence of international troops would help to calm these fears.

Most people do not appear to mind where these troops come from.

Certainly in Kabul people do not insist that troops should come from Muslim countries, as has been suggested by some Western commentators.

If anything, there is perhaps greater confidence in Western troops.

Afghanistan has just suffered badly from the presence of Muslim fighters from Arab countries supporting Osama bin Laden and the Taleban.

Sustained action

The most important thing is that any international force should operate under the banner of the United Nations.

There is a great faith that many of Afghanistan's problems can be resolved if only there is a sustained interest from the international community.

UK soldiers
British troops will lead the force

Opposition to the idea of a foreign force comes largely from political leaders.

Those who now find themselves in positions of power do not want their own positions to be diminished by a large contingent of foreign troops.

Some resent the implication that they themselves are not capable of ensuring security in Afghanistan.

But the international coalition can offer a great deal of aid to Afghanistan, and their encouragement has led even sceptical leaders of the incoming government to express support - at least in public - for a substantial international contingent.

See also:

20 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN moves closer to Afghan force
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
UK to lead 'risky' Afghan mission
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Karzai: King's powerful Pashtun ally
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan powerbrokers: Who's who
18 Dec 01 | Middle East
Yemen attacks 'al-Qaeda hideout'
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda's new military chief
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
Profile: Major General John McColl
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