- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany Afghanistan's main factions, meeting in a room redolent with history, yesterday sealed the terms of an interim government with flourishing pen strokes and laudatory speeches as Germany's chancellor looked on.
"We have set the essential preconditions for peace," declared a triumphant but exhausted U.N. envoy Lakhtar Brahimi, who brokered the nine days of talks.
The deal established Hamid Karzai, 44, a Pashtun tribal chief with ties to the exiled king, as head of a 30-member Cabinet comprising all the main ethnic groups that will convene for the first time in Kabul on Dec. 22. Two female members of the 30-person council were appointed, including a minister of health.
The group will govern Afghanistan for six months while a council of elders determines who will replace them.
A vaguely worded annex to the agreement implies that all armed Afghans will be required to clear out of Kabul once a U.N.-approved international security force arrives to provide security. Troops of reinstalled President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Northern Alliance faction now patrol the capital.
The signing ceremony, which also involved European and international political representatives, took place in the fortresslike Petersberg Hotel where, 62 years ago, another epoch-making deal had its birth.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain looked over the swollen Rhine River from the same oak-framed windows as he waited to drive a short distance to sign a notorious pact in which, proclaiming "peace in our time," he permitted Adolf Hitler to enslave much of Czechoslovakia.
The glib historic parallels end there: The omens this time are far more auspicious. But the task is, in many ways, equally daunting.
That task ahead was outlined by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message delivered by Mr. Brahimi.
"You will have many immediate concerns" beginning with lifting people out of their misery and despair, he said. "You must serve your people in democratic and transparent manner. You cannot afford to fail your people this time."
Younus Qanooni, leader of the Northern Alliance delegation and the interior minister in the new interim authority, signaled that the message had been received. "Afghans will build a common homeland" after 23 years of conflict, he vowed. "While Afghans can fight well, they can also achieve peace."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, talking to reporters after a visit to Turkey, welcomed the deal and said U.S. envoy James Dobbins would travel to Kabul later this month to establish a permanent diplomatic presence in the Afghan capital.
"It would be a liaison office," Mr. Powell said. "The actual act of recognizing a government, I think I'd better wait for my experts and the lawyers of the State Department who have to consult all kind of oracles about such matters."
Despite the wave of good will, the ink was hardly dry on the agreement before wrinkles and smudges became apparent.
There was grumbling over the divisions of the spoils among the different ethnic groups and complaints of greed leveled against the most powerful. All sides agreed the deal was less than perfect, but acknowledged it represented a brilliant balancing of interests.
Inevitably, the interim prime minister, who is to be called the chairman, came from the largest single ethnic group, the Pashtun. Mr. Karzai's relative youth, considerable intellect, wide tribal connections and recent military bravery would have made him ideal but for the complaint among a minority of delegates that he was "American-backed."
The Uzbeks and Hazara minorities, though strong participants of the Northern Alliance, expressed disquiet about being excluded from the key ministerial seats of power defense, security and foreign affairs, all of which went to the current Tajik incumbents, Mohammed Fahim, Mr. Qanooni and Abdullah Abdullah.
Balanced against this is the decline of the Old Guard in place of younger men. Mr. Rabbani, whose rearguard efforts to derail the talks earned him little respect here, is being put out to pasture. The Islamic law professor will probably end up as head of the supreme court.
The ex-king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, will have an influential but not powerful role as convenor and chairman of the first and key session of the loya jirga, which is to be assembled early next year from around 1,000 tribal leaders to select a new interim administration.
It was precisely that prospect that enabled the delegates to complete a deal this week after nine days of intense negotiations.
One Northern Alliance figure warned: "When it comes to the second interim council we will assert our demands more strongly. The first priority for us was to secure a deal, otherwise we would not be forgiven by our people and unlock Western aid."
Internal divisions, should they emerge, are unlikely to be based on ethnicity, one participant said. "In essence, this is less an ethnic conflict than a battle between moderates and fundamentalists," said one key adviser to King Zahir's delegation.
In New York, diplomats said the U.N. Security Council would likely give swift approval to the deal but predicted that U.S. concerns would delay the deployment of the proposed security force for Kabul.
Washington wants to be sure that international peacekeeping measures do not interfere with its war against the al Qaeda terrorist network and its Taliban backers.
However, there was broad agreement that some security provisions must be made before the new Afghan government convenes.
Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.

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