Peace Among Afghan Groups Still Elusive

Along the ethnic fault lines of Afghanistan, peace is still a dream, and security is an illusion.

Local battles rage beyond the reach of foreign troops. In this Afghan town alone, more than 40 people have been killed in a local power struggle over the past four months.

The United States has pledged $2 million in aid to Afghanistan for the training and surplus equipment for the building of an Afghan national army. Officials hope a stronger Afghan force will help end intra-Afghan fighting.

More than six groups divided along ethnic lines have waged nightly rocket battles, clearing out the center of the city and destroying the few Taliban left.

For the most part it is Pashtun against Hazari, two of the four largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Last week, the battered city center was finally captured by the Hazari group.

The United Nations intervened, arranging a cease-fire and partial troop withdrawal. Quiet has been restored, but trust has not.

Michael Semple, a U.N. Civil Affairs officer, has returned to make sure the cease-fire is maintained. "Implementation was 75 percent and the forces who had been involved in the active conflict — they've withdrawn," Semple said.

As Semple approached the warlords, citizens gathered around to plead for help. They told stories of abusive, and the hunger and poverty warlords have created. All of the schools have been destroyed, people have been killed, and everyone is hungry.

After an hour-long effort to keep order, Semple and the leaders retreated to a small house to continue negotiations.

Old complaints were repeated and promises were reiterated — it has all been said before in this recycling of grievances.

Yet, Semple said he remains hopeful.

"It is a stunning achievement that in an area when til only a matter of days ago, there was active conflict, and people didn't have free access to the city center, there was such a positive response," he said.

In June, former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher Shah will also convene a loya jirga, a grand national assembly of tribal elders and other Afghan representatives, that will select a new government to rule Afghanistan until elections can be held in late 2003.

The United States is monitoring work on that national assembly as a measure of how much stability the post-Taliban Afghan government can enjoy in a political culture still dominated by tribal warlords.

But the people are not so confident. They handed notes to the U.N. officials asking for help against the hostile warlords. It's not likely to come. If the threat is not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the Afghans appear to be on their own.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.