Factions already showing up in Afghan cities

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Less than a week after the Taliban were driven from Kabul, 3,000 Shiite Muslim fighters are poised outside, demanding a share of power. Major cities are now warlords' fiefdoms, and the idea of a broad-based government is being challenged by hastily multiplying posters of factional leaders.

While the United Nations is trying to organize a power-sharing conference, it must move quickly or Afghanistan could suffer the same anarchy and division that paved the way for the Taliban's rise in the last decade.

The sudden collapse of the Taliban throughout much of the country has left a power vacuum which the arrival of the northern alliance into Kabul last week only partially filled.

The alliance is a coalition of five groups -- mostly representing ethnic minorities -- which were driven from power by the Taliban in 1996 and which rallied together because of their common hatred for the Islamic militia.

In areas vacated by the Taliban, former warlords such as Ismail Khan in the western city of Herat and Rashid Dostum in the north's Mazar-e-Sharif simply took back control of their old fiefdoms.

The same pattern could well emerge in Kandahar if the Taliban finally give up their southern birthplace and stronghold. In Kandahar, the Taliban are being challenged by ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders who were themselves displaced when the militia emerged there in 1992.

In the capital Kabul, the situation is potentially more explosive. Kabul has an ethnically mixed population and is the symbol of national power.

However, the troops who entered the capital Tuesday were primarily from the alliance faction of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

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