Afghanistan factions OK power talks

U.N. envoy to chair conference to plan new government

Begins Monday in Berlin

Northern Alliance withdraws demand to convene in Kabul

War On Terrorism

November 21, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Lagging behind rapid military successes, the diplomatic effort to rebuild Afghanistan gathered momentum yesterday with agreement among various ethnic factions to meet in Berlin on Monday for a weeklong conference to begin fashioning a new government.

The meeting, to be chaired by a United Nations special envoy, aims to create a provisional administration to run the country while work continues to put together a permanent governing structure.

Plans for the session were announced after a position reversal by the Northern Alliance, the U.S.-backed coalition of ethnic minorities that has taken hold of Kabul after routing the ruling Taliban throughout most of northern Afghanistan.

The alliance, which many suspect wants to rule the country, previously had demanded that the meeting be held in Kabul, where other factions would be reluctant to assemble.

Even after agreeing to the Berlin meeting, the leader of the alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, told CNN the gathering would be "mostly symbolic."

But Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy who will run the meeting, said, "We hope that this will be the beginning we've been looking for to end the conflict in Afghanistan and start building new institutions in the country."

Representatives of 21 countries, meanwhile, met in Washington to lay the groundwork for what officials predicted will be a multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort for Afghanistan, ravaged by more than two decades of war.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said future meetings will produce "concrete contributions in terms of money and other resources."

"The threat of terrorism has not been overcome," said Sadako Ogata of Japan, which co-chaired the meeting with the United States. "One lesson we have learned is that we should not allow the continued existence of a failed or destitute country that could turn into a hotbed of terrorism."

The World Bank and other lending institutions will meet in Islamabad, Pakistan, at the end of the month and a steering committee headed by the United States, Japan, the European Union and Saudi Arabia will meet in Europe next month to determine the reconstruction projects to be undertaken.

A larger, higher-level session is planned for January in Japan, at which point the scope of the work and a price tag will be specified.

The twin developments occurred as the Taliban, driven from most of the country, kept up stiff resistance in their two remaining strongholds - Kandahar in the south and Kunduz in the north.

The question of who will rule Afghanistan after the anticipated final defeat of the Taliban has posed a stiff challenge for the United States, the United Nations and Afghanistan's neighbors. For years, Afghanistan has been a source of regional instability, exporting refugees, extremism and narcotics.

But given the country's history of fiercely protected tribal fiefdoms and antagonism toward foreign rule, the task of assembling a representative, stable government has in recent weeks appeared almost impossible.

U.S. diplomats have taken a back seat to Brahimi, an Algerian who has long experience in the country, but American envoy James Dobbins was in Afghanistan in the past couple of days to exert pressure on Northern Alliance leaders to cooperate with the U.N. envoy.

America's U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte, gave Brahimi's work a strong endorsement during a closed U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, an aide said.

For the present, the United States and its allies are holding off sending a multinational security force into Afghanistan, although several countries, including the United States and Britain, already have soldiers on the ground.

Brahimi told reporters he hopes to draw no more than 30 Afghan leaders to Berlin and press them to form a provisional administration to run the country temporarily.

This will be followed by creation of a larger council and the holding of a loya jirga, a traditional meeting of tribal leaders.

Diplomats said he wants to meet in a secluded place in Berlin, without officials from countries other than Afghanistan present. Current plans call for the meeting to be held in a new wing of the German Foreign Ministry.

The delegates will be drawn from four groups of Afghans and exiles that have been deliberating separately on Afghanistan's future in places as diverse as Rome, Pakistan and Cyprus and will include both the Northern Alliance and a group loyal to the exiled king, Mohammad Zahir Shah.

U.N. officials said the meeting would include representatives of the Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and the one to which the king belongs, but no one from the Taliban.

Asked about Rabbani's asser- tion that the Berlin meeting would be only symbolic, Brahimi said, "That's not what they (the Northern Alliance) told us."

One incentive for Afghanistan's ethnic leaders to agree on forming a government is the prospect of money and outside aid in rebuilding the country's agriculture, roads and schools.

After their meeting yesterday in Washington on reconstruction, officials said it would be hard to get the effort under way without a functioning central government in Afghanistan.

"We need a partner," a senior U.S. official said.

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