Afghan factions agree on new government

Thursday, December 6, 2001

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany -- With a war still being fought in their homeland, Afghan factions signed a pact Wednesday to create a temporary post-Taliban administration, putting aside differences over power sharing to take the first step toward peace.

Amid applause and embraces, exhausted envoys at a luxury hotel near Bonn agreed to a U.N.-brokered plan that allows for the deployment of foreign troops to secure the transition, stresses the inclusion women and strives for a democracy. It offers Afghanistan its best chance in decades to escape a cycle of war.

Resolute mood

The mood was resolute, and the U.N. envoy who will foster the process warned of the difficulties ahead.

"If there is one thing the world has learned, it is that the situation in Afghanistan is far too complex for quick and simple solutions," U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told a ceremony attended by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The 30 interim Cabinet members, drawn from Afghan communities around the world, face staggering tasks. They must not only rebuild a war-ravaged land, but ensure stability by integrating fighters into a regular army, reopen education for women and fight drug production and corruption.

Still, the pact represents "the breathing space during which the people of Afghanistan can take the first of many steps that will be required before a broad-based, multiethnic and truly representative government can be established," Brahimi said.

Alliance big winner

In tune with realities on the ground, the deal gave most posts in the six-month interim Cabinet due to take power Dec. 22 -- including defense, foreign affairs and interior -- to the northern alliance, which has captured most of the country backed by U.S. forces.

At the same time, the list reflected international pressure to include women after years of suppression by the Taliban and to strike a balance among Afghanistan's ethnic groups. Two women were named as ministers.

Hamid Karzai, a moderate Muslim commander involved in the push to conquer the last Taliban stronghold in Kandahar, was chosen as a broadly acceptable leader to head the interim administration.

Karzai, 44, belongs to the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns and heads an influential western Afghan clan with longstanding links to the Afghan royal dynasty exiled since King Mohammad Zaher Shah was deposed in 1973.

Karzai, who has Washington's support, has gone on a risky mission in recent weeks to win over tribesmen who supported the Taliban in his native Kandahar region.

In a CNN interview Wednesday from Afghanistan, he called the appointment an honor and expressed hope for a smooth transfer of power in Kabul.

"I hope very much it will be in the interest of the Afghan people, one that will keep our country good forever," he said.

In Kabul, northern alliance foreign minister Abdullah, who will retain his post, said Karzai was an acceptable choice.

"He's an educated, intelligent person who will put the interest of the Afghan nation above everything else," said Abdullah, who uses one name.

In Islamabad, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, denounced the interim administration, saying Afghans would never accept a government organized by a foreign power.

"Any government imposed on Afghans from abroad can't be accepted," Zaeef told The Associated Press. "We reject this interim government. ... We will continue to fight against the puppets of America."

The U.N. accord sets the stage for a 2 1/2-year transitional period as a prelude to democratic elections and the drafting of a constitution based on principles of "Islam, democracy, pluralism and social justice."

Delegates in Germany wrapped up the deal at dawn Wednesday, but were still bargaining over who would fill key posts even after the formal signing. And despite pressure to enshrine women's rights, delegates said a ministry of women's affairs was only created in a late compromise to secure a deal at the insistence of Sima Wali, a U.S.-based activist for Afghan women's rights.

In the end, Sima Samar, a 44-year-old doctor and women's rights activist currently based in Pakistan, was named as one of five deputy premiers and minister of women's affairs. Another woman, Suhaila Seddiqi, will be health minister.

Karzai will preside over a diverse group that melds opponents of Taliban rule who survived in Afghanistan with intellectuals and experts based outside the country -- a reflection of two decades of war that began with the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Mindful of a horrific civil war between rival warlords after the Red Army withdrew in 1989, the U.N. accord calls for all fighters to leave Kabul and other areas when the international force arrives.

But northern alliance chief delegate Younus Qanooni said Afghans had learned from the past.

"Today the Afghans have proven that, just as they were ready to die for their country, today they are ready to sacrifice and hand over power peacefully," he said.

Brahimi said he would go to Afghanistan early next week to begin preparations for the transfer of power from the nominal northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani.

He said he hoped to stop along the way in Rome to meet the exiled former king, who is to convene a gathering of tribal leaders next spring as part of the transition process.

"The real work starts now," Brahimi said. "The real difficulties are going to start when this interim administration that has been agreed upon here goes to Kabul."

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