Alliance at Bonn Talks


By Tony Czuczka

Washington Post
November 28, 2001

The northern alliance on Wednesday rejected an international force to keep security in post-Taliban Afghanistan, saying the alliance's own troops were sufficient.

The issue of security is one of two items to be decided at U.N.-sponsored talks among four Afghan factions that will decide the war-torn country's political future. The other issue is an interim administration.

"We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place," northern alliance delegation leader Younus Qanooni told reporters at the talks, which began Tuesday outside Bonn.

However, Qanooni said, if a more extensive security force is needed, it should be comprised of ethnic groups within Afghanistan.

The United Nations has offered three proposals for a security force to ensure peace in Afghanistan once the Taliban are defeated: an Afghan force, a U.N. peacekeeping force and an international security force. Officials have indicated that an international force would be the most realistic.

The United States, which has sent a delegation to observe the talks, has not taken a position on whether an eventual security force should be multinational, U.S. envoy James F. Dobbins said.

"Our understanding is not that they're refusing to discuss it but that they're of the view that security is actually pretty good at the moment," Dobbins said, referring to the northern alliance.

Though no decision has been made yet on a multinational force, Turkey, Indonesia and New Zealand have offered to contribute troops. U.S. officials have also cited Bangladesh and Jordan as possible participants.

But many Afghan fighters are hostile to the idea of any international troops on their soil, recalling a long history of battling foreign occupiers, from the British Empire in the 19th century to the Soviets in the 20th.

Qanooni also dampened expectations building at the talks that the exiled former king would head an interim administration, saying he would have a role only if elected by a traditional national council, called a loya jirga.

"We don't believe in the role of a person and personalities. We believe in a system," Qanooni said. "If the people agree through a loya jirga that the king has a role, of course, no one can deny that."

Delegates from other factions at the conference indicated earlier Wednesday that consensus was growing around the ex-king as head of a transitional administration.

The first goal of the talks is to decide on an interim administration that will run Afghanistan until a loya jirga can convene, possibly as early as March. Tribal leaders at the initial loya jirga would approve a transitional government to be in place for up to two years, leading to a second loya jirga, which would approve a constitution and set the stage for elections.

Fatima Gailani, an adviser to one of the four groups negotiating at the talks, said Wednesday that the delegates appeared to nearing agreement that former King Mohammad Zaher Shah, 87, would run that first administration. Zaher Shah has been living in exile in Rome since being overthrown in 1973.

"The majority, everyone agrees that whatever procedure, he will be the head of it. How much power he will have, we have to discuss this," said Gailani, who is advising the delegation of exiles based in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Deputy U.N. mediator envoy Francesc Vendrell and Dobbins, the U.S. envoy, both said delegates from all four groups at the table would like to see a role for the king.

No faction favors a return of the monarchy, and northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani strongly opposes the king as head of state.

The four delegations were to meet Wednesday afternoon in a working session with the chief U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, following a meeting earlier in the day between the two largest factions, the northern alliance and that of the exiled former Afghan king, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Secluded in a luxury hotel near Bonn, Germany, the groups are under strong international pressure, not only from the United Nations but also from the United States and Afghanistan's neighbors, who have observers at the talks, to come up with a formula for an interim administration to replace Taliban rule and a security force.

Vendrell indicated a measure of impatience with the pace of talks so far. Despite plans, the four groups have not yet met together since agreeing to the agenda on Tuesday.

"We have to decide whether we should not help them move along and overcome obstacles," he said, adding that the U.N. will probably "encourage them, prod them."

After heralding a unifying tone at the opening sessions, the United Nations toned down expectations on the talks' second day.

"These talks are not going to be easy. One grain of sand can stop the machine," Fawzi said.

Despite the conflict over the security force, Qanooni called the meetings "positive" and said he expected them to be wrapped up in two or three days.

Western nations hope to use the promise of billions in reconstruction aid as leverage to prod the Afghans toward a historic agreement on a broad-based government, a constitution with full civil rights for women and eventual elections.

Key to any accord is the northern alliance, a coalition of warlords that has gained control of much of Afghanistan since U.S. forces began bombing suspected terrorist targets in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

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