U.S. officials applied pressure behind the scenes at an Afghan meeting near Bonn yesterday, urging the four factions to form a broad-based interim government, a senior administration official said yesterday.
The official also urged Russia not to recognize the Northern Alliance, which has seized control over Kabul and much of Afghanistan, as the legal government of the troubled country.
“We have some concern about countries rushing in to establish diplomatic relations with the so-called [Burhanuddin] Rabbani government it is not going to be viable,” said the senior official, who briefed reporters on the condition he not be identified.
The so-called rule of the Northern Alliance, headed by Mr. Rabbani, cannot be sustained because it represents only part of the country’s ethnic groups, the official said.
The senior official said he has been talking to Russian officials and to leaders of neighboring states to urge them not to recognize the Rabbani administration because it could cause his Northern Alliance to dig in its heels and try to remain in power.
At meetings that began in Bonn yesterday, Northern Alliance delegate Yunus Qanooni said: “We do not intend to monopolize power.” He said the alliance was ready to hand over power to “a legitimate assembly” of Afghans from across the country.
But officials from a rival faction said the alliance was blocking agreement on an international security force to replace the alliance troops in Kabul.
A U.N. spokesman at the Bonn conference said he hoped the delegates would agree to the formation, within six months, of three separate bodies:
An Interim Supreme Council of Afghanistan, a Cabinet-style body that would run the country for three to six months.
An Interim Administration of Afghanistan, or parliament.
An emergency Loya Jirga, or grand council of elders, to decide on a new constitution.
The four Afghan groups at the talks are the Northern Alliance; the Rome-based delegates of the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who ruled until 1973; Iran-backed Afghan exiles, who have been meeting in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia and have become known as the Cyprus Process group; and the Peshawar group of mainly ethnic Pashtuns.
The Pashtuns are the dominant ethnic group in southern Afghanistan, and the Taliban, a group of seminarians who seized power in the mid 1990s, are ethnic Pashtuns. However, not all southerners are pro-Taliban.
“There’s a sense from talking to the Northern Alliance that they have learned their lesson from the past,” the senior administration official told reporters in Washington yesterday. “They understand they can be part of the government, but they will not be the government.”
He also praised the Northern Alliance for not allowing mass killings or massacres to take place in areas they wrested from Taliban control a hallmark of their previous episodes in power between 1992 and 1996.
U.S. officials are working “in the corridors” in Bonn this week to persuade the Northern Alliance to share power in a broad-based government including ethnic Pashtuns, the official said. The Northern Alliance’s main ethnic components are Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
U.S. pressure includes the promise of $1 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid as well as the whispered threat to block not only U.S. aid but all aid from the World Bank and other donors if the alliance refuses to share power.
The U.S. official said that aside from “incentives” to get the Afghans to bury their differences and work with other factions, the United States was applying other forms of pressure that he would not discuss.
The Northern Alliance provided the ground troops that ousted the Taliban from northern Afghanistan, Herat and Kabul. They were aided by U.S. air power and donated Russian armor.
The Taliban was attacked after Oct. 7 by U.S. air strikes for sheltering Osama bin Laden and thousands of other terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Despite a pledge not to enter Kabul, the alliance seized the city after the Taliban fled, leaving a security vacuum.
U.S. officials also are warning the Afghan delegates in Bonn not to allow former Taliban leaders into any interim government they are forming.
“The presence of some people could cause [them to] forgo relations with the United States not all is forgiven,” the official said.
This week, Russian emergency guards hoping to set up a 30-bed hospital became the first foreign troops to enter Kabul since the Soviet army was driven out by U.S.- and Saudi-armed Afghan mujahideen in 1989.
A Russian Embassy official in Washington said yesterday he was unsure of the status of the Russians in Kabul. The Russian Embassy there has been damaged and occupied by hundreds of squatters.