- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

BONN In what looks increasingly like a coup coordinated by satellite phone, Afghan leader Burhanuddin Rabbani's monopoly of power in Kabul has been dealt a severe blow by developments at government-building talks in Bonn.
Mr. Rabbani's Tajik-dominated troops have entrenched themselves in Kabul in the weeks since Taliban forces fled, while allied Uzbek and Hazara factions in the Northern Alliance coalition honored a promise to hold off.
But now those allies have mounted an unexpectedly robust challenge that has increasingly isolated Mr. Rabbani, an Islamic studies professor who headed the Northern Alliance during its misrule of Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
In recent days, he has lost the backing of Gen. Rashid Dostum, the head of the Uzbek ethnic group in the north, and of Abdul Karim Khalili, who leads the Hazara minority in central Afghanistan and its less well-equipped troops.
Both have been insisting on the rapid installation in Kabul of a substantial multinational force with strong powers. And both warned, in satellite telephone interviews, that any delay would lead to an entrenchment of Mr. Rabbani's grip on power and could risk a new outbreak of internecine fighting.
The power struggle is being played out behind the scenes at a conference in Bonn, where four Afghan factions are studying a U.N. plan under which the alliance would turn over power to an interim administration of up to 30 persons and an independent council of elders.
The factions have agreed that the elders will form a council called a loya jirga, which will establish a transitional administration to govern for two years while a democratic constitution is drafted and elections are organized.
But none of the delegations has formally submitted its list of names for the interim administration, and the weekend was dominated by squabbling about whether to permit an international force to police Kabul.
Mr. Rabbani's men erred by sending a delegation that was too low-level to make rapid decisions, allowing the initiative to flow out of their hands. This meant they could not quickly compromise on a list of names they had exchanged before the meeting with representatives of the ex-king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.
The Tajik-dominated group also overplayed its hand when it insisted that Kabul needed no international protection. That demand was rapidly watered down in a series of confused, embarrassing and often contradictory flip-flops one of which was implausibly attributed to a translation error.
In the end, there will have to be a peacekeeping force, delegates here say, and it will be large enough to ensure the security of the interim administration. The delegates in Bonn have said they are not willing to arrive in Kabul unprotected and at the mercy of Mr. Rabbani's Tajik troops.
The likelihood is that only a small peacekeeping force will accompany the new leaders, but that a bigger force will arrive invited by the interim administration.
The Western nations, meanwhile, have made it clear that billions of dollars in aid for reconstruction would not materialize unless a properly protected interim administration is in place.
Mr. Rabbani's mishandling of the negotiations has played into the hands of the Rome-based group formed around the 87-year-old exiled King Zahir, who earned considerable respect for developing democratic institutions for 40 years until he was toppled in 1973.
His supporters have portrayed themselves as the voices of reason, needed as a moderating and stabilizing presence in any interim administration.
That Mr. Rabbani would not be the leader of the interim administration was settled on Friday; what the king's official position will be is far from clear, though he will be convener of the loya jirga, due to begin deliberations in four months.
King Zahir will have considerable representation in the interim administration, but his people lack the military muscle to back any demands.
What gives them some clout is the impression that they can unlock Western reconstruction funds.

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