The victorious Northern Alliance provided a foretaste of trouble by insisting yesterday that it would take care of security in Afghanistan and that an international peacekeeping force was unnecessary.
Within the last 48 hours, the alliance has defied the US by capturing Kabul and has rejected calls from America, Britain and the United Nations to create a broad-based government that would include moderate elements of the Taliban.
The latest alliance rebuff and the re-emergence of feudal warlords in the south of the country dampened celebrations in Washington and London over the ease with which Kabul fell on Tuesday.
Both the US and Britain are anxious to see an international force in Kabul as soon as possible. The UN, too, has been making arrangements for a multinational force.
But the Northern Alliance foreign affairs spokesman, Abdullah Abdullah, said he saw the future role of the UN mainly as "observers".
Asked about allowing in an international peacekeeping force, Mr Abdullah said: "The obstacle to achieving peace is, of course, the Taliban and the terrorists. After getting rid of the Taliban and the terrorists, there won't be war and won't be a need for international peacekeeping forces."
The fear, shared by the UN, is of repeat of the descent into chaos that followed the overthrow of the Soviet-backed Afghan regime a decade ago, when the mojahedin factions that had fought the Russians turned on each other.
In Washington, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, insisted that President Bush, was "very pleased" with developments in Afghanistan.
But the speed of the alliance advance and the collapse of the Taliban has thrown into disarray plans by the UN, the US and Britain for a multi-ethnic coalition government.
The UN is sending its special envoy, Francesc Vendrell, into Kabul tomorrow to assess how far the alliance is prepared to cooperate in allowing an international force in and creating a broad-based government.
America's special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, arrived in Pakistan last night to discuss how to forge the diverse groupings in Afghanistan into a government.
That task was made even more formidable by the reemergence of the warlords who have been hibernating for the last five years of Taliban rule. Tribal leaders seized Oruzgan province and were poised to take Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in the south-east. Various tribal groupings were fighting for control over Jalalabad.
Mr Vendrell and Mr Dobbins will have to decide how many of these leaders - who like the Taliban are from the majority Pashtun ethnic grouping - can be accommodated in a new government.
The former Afghan king, Zahir Shah, 87, who is in exile in Rome, issued a call for unity yesterday. His advisers say he intends returning to Afghanistan to play a role as a figurehead round which the various groups can unite.
The Northern Alliance is in a strong bargaining position, having possession of much of Kabul and most of the north of the country. But the US and the UN can threaten to withhold the financial aid needed to rebuild the country unless the alliance compromises over security and over creating a government that will include Pashtun leaders, former Taliban members among them.
The UN wants to hold a meeting of all the Afghan factions within the next week, preferably outside the country. The United Arab Emirates offered yesterday to host the meeting. But the Northern Alliance is instead inviting prospective members to Kabul.
Yesterday the UN security council was discussing a British-French resolution on the make-up of a future Afghan government.
The draft resolution stressed that the government should be multiethnic; that the UN should support efforts to establish security in areas no longer under Taliban control; and that the Afghans should fulfill human rights obligations.
Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw challenged the Northern Alliance by insisting that moderate Taliban members could form part of any government sponsored by the UN.
He also said there was growing evidence that former Taliban leaders were defecting, and were examining other political options, including the return of the former king.
Amnesty International UK wrote to Tony Blair yesterday accusing ministers of being complacent about the human rights record of the alliance. Its director of communications, Richard Bunting, said: "By failing to appreciate the gravity of the human rights concerns in relation to Northern Alliance leaders, UK ministers at best perpetuate a culture of impunity for past crimes; at worst they risk being complicit in human rights abuse."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001