It wasn't exactly a scene out of a World War II movie, where French villagers poured into the streets to cheer their Allied liberators and pretty girls kissed American GIs. No, the liberation of Kabul from the ruthless Taliban wasn't like that, but clearly a lot of people were pleased to see them gone.
The New York Times did a story Tuesday on a barber in Taliqan, another Afghanistan town, who had the busiest day of his life after Northern Alliance troops drove out the Taliban. Men lined up all day to have the long beards that the Taliban required them to wear trimmed or shaved. Women walked alone in the streets, something they couldn't do before without risk of caning by Taliban fanatics. Music was played and hidden television sets were unearthed.
Such is life in a town liberated from the Taliban.
Complications: But life in Afghanistan is not so simple. While the Taliban is in retreat, its future is unclear. Does it intend to try to solidify its support in the South and fight from there? Does it imagine that this is only a temporary set back and that if it waits out the winter it can mount a guerrilla war in the spring? Does it suspect that by spring, the shock of September 11 will have worn off and the United States will be less enthusiastic about its troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan and the rest of the world will be less supportive than it is now?
These are all good questions that President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, their advisers and the other allies in the battle over Afghanistan and the war against terrorism will have to answer.
The first order of business is for the United Nations to immediately establish a strong presence in the Afghan capital of Kabul. If it does not, the Northern Alliance most likely will, despite its present claims to the contrary.
The preliminary U.N. plan sounds good: Establish a two-year transitional government. During that period, a loya jirga, or grand council of prominent Afghans, would draw up a constitution and a second gathering would approve it, creating a new, permanent and representative Afghan government.
The U.S. focus: In the meantime, the United States must pursue its main goal: Capture or kill Osama bin Laden and destroy his Al-Qaida terrorist network.
Had the Taliban cooperated in that endeavor, they might still be in Kabul. The United States and its allies would have scored a short-range victory against terrorism.
Unfortunately for them, the Taliban picked the wrong side, which in the long run will be to the advantage of the Afghan people. The Taliban was a brutal force, which showed no respect for anyone or anything outside its narrow perspective and its perverse interpretation of Islam.
If the U.N. is successful in establishing a new political order in Kabul, it will not only help the Afghan people, but it will help bring stability to a troubled region of the world.