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Afghans wary of warlord rule

As their leaders begin talks in Germany today on a future regime, Afghan civilians remain skeptical.

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Two weeks after the Taliban's departure from Jalalabad, there are signs that civil society here is returning to something that resembles normality.

Schools are reopening. Markets are crowded with shoppers. And the number of gun-toting militiamen, who once prowled the streets by the thousands, has dropped noticeably in recent days.

But to many Afghans here, America's anti-Taliban allies are not benevolent rulers, and the warlords' ability to secure a lasting peace is much in doubt.

"These people don't know how to run a government," says Najibullah, a physician who jumps into a cab with reporters to avoid being overheard by militiamen. "They rule only for money. They take money on gunpoint and do what they want. People are afraid to express their ideas now. They are not safe."

As Afghan warlords, politicians, and tribal elders meet today in Bonn, Germany, to discuss the shape of Afghanistan's post-Taliban government, the populations these groups now rule back in Afghanistan remember the robbery, rape, and revenge that erupted the last time Afghan warlords came to power - between 1992 and '96. The Taliban militia came into being largely in response to this anarchy.

So far, Jalalabad residents give their latest rulers mixed marks.

Some people here say the warlords who replaced the Taliban have done nothing to curb crime, including the looting of homes, offices, and aid agencies. In fact, they say, militiamen are often the ones engaged in looting. Other Afghan civilians point to abuses of power, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and whippings in the streets.

Detentions and whippings also occurred under the Taliban, who enforced strict adherence to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. But the erosion of public order is almost enough to make some Afghans nostalgic.

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