BONN Previously quarreling and at times fratricidal Afghan factions have agreed to terms for an interim council to run Afghanistan for about four months, preceded by the arrival of an international peacekeeping force in the country’s capital, Kabul.
All that remains is to name the estimated 150 members of the “Supreme Council” and the smaller interim administration and to decide on the equally problematic issue of which countries’ troops will be acceptable to all sides for the peacekeeping effort.
Last-minute snags seemed unlikely to ruin this all-but-done deal.
Reinstalled president Burhanuddin Rabbani’s interior minister whose officials currently run and control Kabul’s streets and occupy public buildings was forced to backtrack from yesterday’s stated refusal to bring in outside forces.
They would now be acceptable if it was felt they could shore up the new administration, Northern Alliance delegation head Younus Qanooni said, speaking through an interpreter on the U.N. ship on the Rhine river. It was here on Wednesday that he had said there was “no need” for these forces in a “presently peaceful and secure” capital.
Mr. Qanooni attributed his about-face to an error by his original translator, who failed to appear today. The smiling and lightly bearded Afghan strongman joked that he hoped he would not need a third translator when he meets with reporters today.
He maintained that the new international force should have a “peacekeeping, not a peace-enforcing” function, a distinction that could turn out to be a face-saving formula. Mr. Qanooni also expressed a preference for the U.N. force to be drawn from Islamic nations.
Delegates reported confidentially that they were battling, in meetings extending beyond midnight at the secluded hilltop resort hotel of Petersberg, a last-ditch effort by Mr. Qanooni to avoid any final decision-making here. He apparently has demanded that the talks be rescheduled for Kabul a move that sources said almost all parties as well as the United Nations and the United States are implacably opposed to, fearing it would increase the chances of failure and entrench Mr. Rabbani’s monopoly in the region.
The representatives of Mohammed Zahir Shah also want the U.N. force, but groups aligned with Pakistan and Iran are less enthusiastic. The United States has been distinctly less gung-ho than the Europeans and some Afghans over the necessity for such a force.
“We are still assessing whether a force is needed,” said James Dobbins, the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan. “The question is whether the Afghan people want it.”
What has been universally accepted is that the multinational forces should first enter and secure Kabul. U.N. spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said the interim administration cannot be put in place, nor can it function properly, without being physically secure.
The fear among delegates is that any new administration, no matter how interim, will be flooded with demands for support from desperate local citizens and power seekers.
It also will have to administer large volumes of aid and reconstruction material expected to stream in from reopened roads and airports.
“Any misappropriation or chaos in dealing with this aid and these demands could cause the administration to collapse in acrimony,” a delegate representing the exiled king pointed out.
The new interim administration is expected to comprise between 20 and 25 people, and the next step would be the creation of a Supreme Council of about 150 members.
Lists of names are being worked on for both bodies, but delegates said this should not be a deal-breaking exercise. The Northern Alliance and the exiled king’s representatives had already brought with them and exchanged their own proposed names before they arrived here.
Each side has used competence as the yardstick rather than ethnicity or power, the two sides maintained.
“We made up lists based on who was allied to whom last time round, when the Russians left, and that was a disaster,” said a representative of the exiled king. “Now we’re seeking people who can implement aid and reconstruction, not play power politics.”
However brave and bold these expressions may be, they could founder if any side felt its ethnic or interest group was seriously underrepresented or excluded, observers said.
Already the group representing Gen. Rashid Dostum suspended its participation in the talks until its concerns were assuaged, and the sole Hazara representative among the 11 Northern Alliance members here said he stayed in the talks only because decisions here have to be made by consensus.
Another question at the conference has been the representation of the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. They make up at least 40 percent of the population, but not all their heartland has been liberated from the control of the Taliban, whose ranks are mostly Pashtun anyway.
The king is a Pashtun, and so are most of the exiles based in Pakistan, who also are represented here. It was a distinct boost to the conference, though, when it was joined yesterday by a key Pashtun leader whose brother, Sayed Hamid Karzai, had courageously fought off Taliban forces during his armed incursion into his home provinces soon after the U.S. air strikes began.
Mr. Karzai now controls provinces situated not far from Kandahar.
A women’s delegation of the European Union meanwhile met with the representatives to demand that close to 40 percent of the new members of any administration be women.
Speaking exclusively to The Washington Times by satellite-phone from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, the Hazara ethnic group’s military and political leader, Abdul Karim Khalili, said his forces would welcome Americans, Europeans or any other forces provided they came under the U.N. umbrella. He said the Islamic countries, if they decide to come, need only be a part of any such force.