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Eyeing the future

By Globe Staff, 10/16/01

Any individual or coalition succeeding the Taliban in Afghanistan will have to unify a war-torn country with pronounced ethnic and geographic fault lines — Pashtuns to the south, Uzbeks in the northwest, Tajiks and Hazaras to the north.

Below are some of the potential key players in a post-Taliban era.


A delicate balance
A look at Afghanistan's shifting ethnic rivalries.

Abdurrashid Dostum
Age: 47
Ethnicity: Uzbek
Current location: Afghanistan
Vice chairman of the political party United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. A former Soviet general turned warlord, he was based in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Considered one of the Northern Alliance's most prominent commanders. Many alliance commanders, including Dostum, were known for their brutality during the civil war that split Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 1980s. A secularist who openly uses alcohol.

Pir Syed Ahmad Gailani
Age: 67
Ethnicity: Pashtun
Current location: Pakistan
Spiritual head of a minority Sufi Muslim sect in Afghanistan. A relatively moderate leader and chief of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan party. Has urged the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, to broaden his political base. Could have his eye on post as interim prime minister.

Abdul Haq
Age: 43
Ethnicity: Pashtun
Current location: Returned last week to Pakistan from United Arab Emirates.
Once a renowned guerrilla fighter against the Soviets, he lost his right foot to a land mine. Last week said he regretted that he did not destroy the Taliban in the conflict following the Soviet withdrawal.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Age: Born in the 1940s
Ethnicity: Pashtun
Current location: Exiled in Iran
The nominal prime minister, a hard-line Islamic. Was the warlord responsible for destroying much of Kabul in post-Soviet civil war. Overthrown when rival militia leader Burhanuddin Rabbini assumed power. Also led Hezb-e-Islam, a fundamentalist faction of the mujahideen.

Karim Khalili
Age: 51
Ethnicity: Hazara
Current location: Believed to be in central Afghanistan
Secretary general of Wahadat party. Studied religious philosophy in private religious institutions in Afghanistan.

Ismail Khan
Age: 54
Ethnicity: Tajik
Current location: Afghanistan
One of the more famous anti-Soviet mujahideen. Former governor of the northwestern city of Herat. The only opposition warlord who has managed to gain any ground for the Northern Alliance. Has called on the United States for “military aid” rather than troops. Recently claimed his forces had entered Chaghcharan, capital of the remote Ghor province.

Mullah Mohammed Omar
Age: thought to be 41
Ethnicity: Pashtun
Current location: Afghanistan
Self-declared “Amir-ul-Momineen,” or leader of the Muslim faithful. Head of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Rigid and uncompromising religious teacher. Former mujahideen who, with group of like-minded mullahs, became the core of the Taliban, which in Pashto means “seekers of religious knowledge.”

Burhanuddin Rabbani
Age: 61
Ethnicity: Tajik
Current location: Exiled in Tajikistan
Guerrilla leader installed as president in 1992, marking the first time in 250 years that Afghanistan had not been ruled by a Pashtun. The United Nations, United States, and most foreign governments recognize his party, the United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, as Afghanistan's legitimate party. An Islamic scholar and poet, driven from Kabul in 1996 by the Taliban.

King Mohammad Zahir Shah
Age: 87
Ethnicity: Pashtun
Current location: In exile in Rome
Member of the Durrani dynasty who ruled Afghanistan from 1747 to 1973. Abdicated in 1973 after his cousin staged a coup and has since lived in Italy. Has made attempts in recent years to reconcile warring Afghan groups.

Sources: CIA; Reuters; afghan-network.net; news reports


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