UNITED NATIONS -- With opposition forces driving Afghanistan's ruling Taliban fighters from their strongholds, foreign ministers from eight key countries agreed Monday to accelerate efforts to form an alternative government "on an urgent basis."
The ministers from Afghan-istan's six neighbors as well as the United States and Russia met on the sidelines of a weeklong General Assembly gathering as opposition fighters claimed to have advanced toward the capital, Kabul.
A declaration issued at the end of a 90-minute meeting endorsed efforts by the top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan "to facilitate efforts by Afghan groups committed to a free and peaceful Afghan-istan to establish a broad-based Afghan administration on an urgent basis."
The envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he hopes to get "a representative sampling of the Afghan population together to see what kind of interim arrangements we can work together for Kabul."
Two U.S. officials said postwar arrangements were likely to include use of peacekeepers from Muslim and non-Muslim countries. The idea originated with Turkey, and other likely participants are Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jordan, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A closed meeting
The closed ministerial meeting, in a basement conference room at U.N. headquarters, took place shortly after an American Airlines jet crashed across the East River in the New York City borough of Queens. Preliminary reports indicated there was an explosion on the plane, but there was no immediate evidence of a terrorist link.
U.N. headquarters on Manhattan's east side was quickly sealed off, causing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to arrive about 15 minutes late for the meeting. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar missed the meeting entirely, but a senior Foreign Ministry official was there and represented the country, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the ministers "stressed the need for speed ... to bring the political aspects in line with the military development on the ground."
"We have always been aware that when you get into these kinds of operations, things can move very fast, and sometimes can get stuck," he said. "We have to be nimble. We have to be able to move quickly, and we have to be flexible."
Been trying for years
The so-called "Six-plus-Two" committee comprising the United States, Russia and the six Afghan neighbors -- Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- has been trying for years to end the civil war in Afghanistan.
In their declaration, the eight ministers backed efforts by the Afghan people to find a political solution they said should be "broad-based, multiethnic, politically balanced, freely chosen ... and at peace with its neighbors."
They also condemned "the export of international terrorism" by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.