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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Questions on Peacekeeping Force Loom

Afghanistan: With the U.N. unwilling to make the soldiers official 'blue helmets,' the logistics are up in the air.

November 16, 2001|WILLIAM ORME | TIME STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Now that the Security Council has called on United Nations member states to support an emergency peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, potential volunteers were asking Thursday:

Who will command the troops? Where will they operate, and what authority will they have there? Will they be a peacekeeping force or a fighting force?

And who will pay for it all?

Though U.S. and British forces are deployed in Central Asia, the Bush administration and U.N. officials have signaled a strong preference for a peacekeeping force that mirrors the cultural makeup of Afghanistan, a predominately Muslim land.

Diplomats from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Turkey--among the largest Muslim nations--said Thursday that their governments are willing to contribute troops to such a peacekeeping effort. And all agree that answers to the lingering questions need to be found fast.

"It is essential that we move quickly but also cleverly," said Ismail Cem, Turkey's foreign minister.

But the mission of such a force, called for in a resolution passed Wednesday by the Security Council, must be clearly defined and endorsed by the U.N. in consultation with the three nations, the diplomats said. All three governments also are concerned that sending peacekeepers could be premature if fighting continues outside the Afghan cities occupied in the past week by opposition forces.

"It is not yet as clear a situation as some think it is," Cem said. "The Taliban have not evaporated."

Still, if asked, Turkey is prepared to assume command of a multinational peacekeeping force, Cem said. He noted that his nation, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, not only has the training and field experience needed but also has historic ties to Afghanistan and a stake in Central Asia's stability.

"We believe that Turkey can play a lead role in the peacekeeping mission," Cem said. "We think it is a duty for us."

Bangladesh, currently a temporary member of the Security Council, joined in supporting Wednesday's resolution and "would respond very favorably" to a request to provide peacekeepers, said Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, the country's representative to the world body. Bangladesh is already the largest single contributor of manpower to U.N. peacekeeping efforts, he noted, with more than 4,000 soldiers on duty in volatile Sierra Leone and another 2,000 in other operations.

But he added: "So far, it is not crystal clear what the mission will be. The Security Council laid down broad parameters [Wednesday], but there will also have to be specifics."

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, voiced a similar mix of willingness and concern. "Indonesia would like to participate if the U.N. sets out the mission very clearly," said Patang Razak, spokesman for the Indonesian mission here.

Once the terms of engagement are defined, deployment can move quickly, the diplomats said. The Turkish army, which has fielded peacekeeping forces in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, has a brigade of about 3,000 men standing by.

Bangladesh also is confident that it can move troops in quickly, Chowdhury said. For generals in Indonesia, used to shuttling troops across their own vast archipelago, the logistics of moving forces to Afghanistan do not seem daunting either, Indonesian officials said.

More problematic is the institutional vacuum in Afghanistan, they said. Cem indicated that Turkey would be reluctant to send troops before it is clear that they would be welcomed by some broad-based, legally constituted Afghan government.

In the resolution passed unanimously Wednesday, the Security Council called on U.N. members to support a peacekeeping initiative in Afghanistan. But the text made clear by omission--as U.N. and U.S. officials wanted--that the force would not be an official "blue helmets" operation, paid and supervised by the world body.

The council offered no guidance as to how forces might be led or financed.

"It welcomes the efforts of those members of the [anti-Taliban] coalition who are either in Afghanistan at the moment or prepared to do so to help ensure security in that country, especially the capital of Kabul," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the world body.

Security Council members say a more specific resolution may be drafted soon that would authorize the force's deployment and give the troops a clear legal mandate.

Issues of authority and accountability are crucial not just for the participating nations but for the U.N. and U.S., which will be seen as sharing ultimate responsibility for the Afghanistan endeavor.

Human Rights Cited as Justification

The Security Council cited human rights violations by the Taliban regime as a justification for international intervention and said strongly that any transitional government there should respect human rights.

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