- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Former King Zahir Shah knows the Petersburg Hotel, which overlooks the Rhine across from Germany's old capital, Bonn. It was where he stayed in 1973 before he was deposed in a military coup. This week, it is where he and four groups of Afghans, monitored by 18 foreign delegations, are meeting to decide the political future of Afghanistan. The king is not the only one experiencing a touch of deja vu during the talks.

"Remember 1992" was the line U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan took to welcome and warn the delegations at the conference Tuesday. His challenge to avoid the mistakes of the past could not have been more appropriate. In 1992, Afghanistan was nearly as unstable as it is today. The pro-Soviet government was felled by rebel factions who later fought against each other for control of Kabul. In 1995, they were united into a nine-party council brokered by the United Nations. No sooner was the council arranged than the Taliban militia destroyed it and took over most of the country. The year 1992 also saw the United States' attempt at nation-building in Somalia, where failed U.N. peace proposals for the country's warring factions resulted in 18 Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Now, Afghanistan is once again considering a power-sharing coalition with international assistance for nation-building. Both the international community and Afghans must ask themselves hard questions to ensure they do not repeat past mistakes. First, the international community must consider the extent to which it will be nation-building in Afghanistan. During their first closed-door meeting in Bonn, delegates agreed on the goal of establishing an interim administration. The former king, now 87 years old, was seen by all parties as a uniting figure during the transition, according to James Dobbins, the U.S. government's Central Asia envoy. Next, an assembly of tribal leaders, or "loya jirga," will meet, possibly in March, to determine the next transitional administration, which will rule for up to two years. Another loya jirga meeting will follow, which will approve a constitution, elections and human-rights measures.

The international community must consider the legal, political and moral authority for sustained involvement beyond humanitarian assistance. For example, will the international community continue involvement only within the parameters of what is allowed by a Security Council resolution or by the current Afghan government or the Afghan people? It must also decide whether it is trying to set up a democracy, a tribal state, a democratic monarchy or another form of government, and to what extent the United States and the international community will be involved in ensuring that the government survives.

The Afghan delegates agreed yesterday to reach a consensus on the interim power-sharing government within three to five days. While countries such as the United States, Russia, Iran and Pakistan try to influence those decisions from the sidelines, all must remember that they are in Bonn today because the power-sharing government of 1995 did not last. Now is their chance to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

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