Pashtun warlord leaves talks on Afghanistan's future

Friday, November 30, 2001

Associated Press WriterKOENIGSWINTER, Germany (AP) -- The head of the northern alliance rejected key points of a political blueprint for Afghanistan on Friday, a sign of growing fissures within the alliance over plans being drawn up at U.N.-sponsored talks here.

In another setback, an ethnic Pashtun delegate in the alliance walked out of the talks being held outside Bonn to protest the lack of representation for his ethnic group, the largest in Afghanistan.

The comments by alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani in the Afghan capital, Kabul, came after progress was made this week at the Germany talks, where the United Nations is trying to pull the alliance and three other Afghan factions into an interim post-Taliban government.

Rabbani insisted a force to keep security in the country should be made up solely of Afghans -- or, at most, 200 foreign troops. He also said an interim governing council should be chosen in Afghanistan rather than appointed at the conference outside Bonn.

A spokesman for alliance delegate Mohammad Hussin Natiqi indicated rifts between alliance leaders in Kabul and their own delegation.

"They sent representatives who do not have the authority to speak on their behalf," Mohammad Bakhshi said. "And now, they have discovered that serious business is being decided here."

A day earlier, the alliance delegation here had expressed willingness to accept an international force and drew up a list of candidates for the interim council.

The United Nations said it expects alliance leaders in Kabul to respect any agreement.

"We have Mr. Rabbani's word that he will respect whatever comes out of the Bonn talks," U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. He said the delegation head at the conference had promised to implement any deal reached.

"We can only take their word for it," he said.

The northern alliance is loose collection of armed groups, mostly made up of ethnic minorities, particularly Tajiks and Uzbeks. Just how loose was indicated by the walkout of Abdul Qadir, one of its three ethnic Pashtun members.

Qadir refused to attend meetings Thursday and Friday to protest the lack of representation of Pashtuns at the conference, another alliance delegation spokesman, Bahadori, said.

Though the Pashtuns comprise the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, with estimates ranging from 40 to 60 percent of the population, they don't have their own delegation here. Each of the four delegations present includes Pashtun members.

U.N. officials and other delegates at the talks played down the significance of Qadir's departure.

"We do not expect any major setback as a result of his departure," the United Nation's Fawzi said.

The leader of the so-called Cyprus delegation, a small Afghan exile group, expressed confidence that the groups would reach an agreement by Saturday -- and that Qadir would accept it.

Qadir is the governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, which includes the city of Jalalabad, where the large Pashtun population rejects Rabbani, a Tajik. The militias controlling eastern Afghanistan, who named Qadir to his post, have formed a governing council independent of the northern alliance.

The four factions at the talks -- the northern alliance, a delegation from the exiled former king and two small exile groups -- made movement on two central points Thursday.

Each faction drafted lists of proposed representatives to the interim council, and the alliance delegation head, Younus Qanooni, said the alliance could accept an international force under the interim government.

Rabbani, however, told reporters in Kabul on Friday he would prefer that security be provided by Afghan factions, with each group having as many as 1,000 security personnel in such a locally recruited force.

If the United Nations rejects that option, "then it is possible to have 100 to 200 peacekeeping people from the United Nations. These forces would be responsible to keep the peace as far as they want," Rabbani said.

He also said the interim council should be elected in Afghanistan rather than appointed as proposed in Bonn.

"We could go through this process and have (an interim) council in one or two months," said Rabbani.

Since talks began Tuesday, all sides have broadly agreed to form an executive body of 15-25 people and a larger semi-legislative council of up to 200, according to the United Nations.

Each faction drew up lists of candidates for the councils on Thursday. But the factions have yet to agree on how many seats each side is allotted in the interim bodies, who should fill them, the exact powers of the larger council and who should head it.

U.N. mediators brought all sides around the table Friday in an attempt to start putting down the outline of the interim administration down on paper.

What role former King Mohammad Zaher Shah, 87, should play has emerged as a key bargaining point.

Diplomats say all sides agree on the ex-king as a unifying figure for the country, ravaged by 20 years of war and civil strife. He has lived in Rome since being ousted in a 1973 coup, but still enjoys great respect among most Afghans.

Yet there are differences of opinion over his place in the emerging new order.

Abdul Sattar Sirat, the ex-king's chief envoy, said Thursday the king should be head of state and lead the interim council.

"He has the central role in the future of Afghanistan," Sirat said, though he stressed that the king did not want to restore the monarchy.

The northern alliance says the ex-king can be a unifying force, but not head of state.

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