The Northern Alliance is also commonly known as the United Front. They are the Mujahideen (or Muslim soldiers) that make up Afghanistan's anti-Taleban alliance. The present forces are strongest in the mountainous north of Afghanistan including the strategic Panjsher Valley. They are estimated to control between 5% and 15% of the country. In the last year most of the fighting between them and the Pashtun Taleban has been occurring in Takhar and near Mazar-i-Sharif which are strategic supply lines to the Northern Alliance. Both parties consider their struggle to be a Jihad.
After Kabul was captured (by the Taleban) on September 26, 1996 the non-Pashtun forces allied again as they did in 1992 (after the Soviet Union dissolved). The Northern Alliance's governmental leader is the former president ethnic Tajik Burhanuddin Rabbani. The two main factions that began the Northern Alliance are Jamiat-i Islami (aka Islamic Society) and Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami (aka National Islamic Movement).
General Muhammad Fahim took over as a military leader of Jamiat-i Islami when Commander (and former Defense Minister) Ahmed Shah Masood was killed in a suicide attack on September 9, 2001. President Rabbani was chosen as the chairman of this predominately Tajik Islamist party in 1973. Rabbani received support from Saudi Arabia until 1993. The President still claims to be the head of the Afghanistan government and controls most of the countries embassies abroad. Rabbani retained Afghanistan's United Nations seat while the UN General Assembly debated whether to revoke the seat completely. Tajikistan has provided support to their fellow Afghan Tajiks, many of whom would like to see Tajik held Afghanistan merged into a greater Tajikistan.
Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum founded another faction, Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami (or National Islamic Movement), which was comprised mainly of the Sunni Muslim Uzbeks. He received support from Uzbekistan and Russia, which both sought to prevent radical Islamic movements from encroaching their borders. Russia is known to have provided Dostum's forces with 500 T55 and T62 tanks and a large number of Frog 7 and Luna M missiles. Uzbekistan has also provided tanks, aircraft, and technical support to Dostum's forces over the years. Dostum's forces have also been known to fight with the other Northern Alliance troops and he is often thought of as a maverick.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the near universal consensus is that Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network holds much of the blame. The Taleban has been harboring and protecting bin Laden from his criminal indictments in the United States. Now it appears that the United States, Russia, India, Iran, Great Britain, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are all lending at least nominal support to the Northern Alliance. The ultimate goal of these countries is to eliminate the Taleban, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network the Al-Qaeda.
Afghanistan's former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, and the Northern Alliance announced on October 1, 2001 that they have agreed to convene a grand council of Afghan leaders to appoint a Loya Jirga (or Grand Assembly) of tribal and ethnic leaders to elect a new head of state and a transitional government to rule over Afghanistan once the power vacuum occurs when then Taleban is ultimately defeated.
Many people feel that former king Zahir Shah, crowned in 1933 (began rule in 1953) and living in exile in Italy since 1973, is the only figure with enough authority to assemble a broad anti-Taleban front. There is valid concern that the Northern Alliance alone would not be able to maintain rule in Kabul. Previous attempts of Northern Alliance rule, between 1992 and 1996, lead to fractious infighting that nearly destroyed Kabul and ultimately destabilized the government enough for the Taleban to take over.
Update: October 16, 2001: The latest news from the Associated Press and Reuters is that the Northern Alliance and the former king Zahir Shar have broken off their agreement. Mohajeddin Mehdi, first secretary of the Afghan Embassy in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, said that while Rabbani still supports the king’s proposal on forming a Loya Jirga, it shouldn’t happen for a few years. Asked who would govern Afghanistan in the interim between defeat of the Taliban and the formation of a Loya Jirga, Mehdi said, "We think it should be our government, which is broad-based."
Update: November 13, 2001: It appears as though the Northern Alliance has driven the Taliban out of the Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. It has been reported by many news sources that the Taliban fighters remaining have fled to the mountains. Earlier in the week the Northern Alliance captured the key town of Mazar-i-Sharif. Other provincial capitals were captured very quickly in succession. The President of the U.S. George W. Bush and the government of Pakistan had asked the Northern Alliance troops to refrain from entering Kabul, but they seemed to have ignored their wishes to some degree. Pakistan has suggested that the troops should remain on the outskirts of the city until a U.N. peacekeeping force can be put in place. The question of who will fill the power vacuum is still looming over the city.
For the first time in many years the people of Afghanistan are experiencing a semblance of freedom. Many men have been seen shaving off their Taliban mandated beards. Music has been heard on the radio. Many women removed the burqas that they had been required to wear.
Update: December 7, 2001: The Taleban have given up and fled Kandahar, the last remaining city under their rule. Afghanistan’s newly appointed leader, Hamid Karzai, has said "The Taliban rule is finished. As of today, they are no longer a part of Afghanistan." The fate of Mullah Omar, the leader of the defunct Taleban, is still unknown. He is believed now that he has fled Kandahar.
- Afghanistan: The Forgotten Crisis by Barnett R. Rubin at http://www.cip.fuhem.es/afganistan.htm