The man who led the most pro-Western Afghan resistance group to Soviet occupation during the 1980s, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, has signaled he wants to play a leading role in deciding who governs Afghanistan after the Taliban is removed. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky reports from Pakistan on Gailani's call to unite for the good of the nation.
Peshawar, 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led coalition against terror has decided that Afghanistan's radical Islamic Taliban government must be removed.
The Taliban is harboring the world's most-wanted suspected terrorist, Osama bin Laden, and has supported his calls for a holy struggle, or jihad, against the U.S. and its allies.
But Pakistan, a crucial coalition member and Afghanistan's neighbor, opposes the Northern Alliance, the group that is battling the Taliban and which many believe will play a leading role once the Taliban is defeated.
The U.S. and Britain have given support to the Northern Alliance and the United Front it formed last week with former Afghan King Zahir Shah.
They have said the alliance can be part of a broad-based government but should not seize power unilaterally.
Yesterday saw the emergence of a respected Afghan figure who made a call for his countrymen to attend a meeting on 21 October he is organizing to rally support for the sort of future post-Taliban government that might be acceptable to both the Western allies and Pakistan.
Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani is a veteran of the Afghan political scene. During the Soviet occupation of his country in the 1980s, he led one of the seven main Mujaheddin resistance groups.
The group, called the Mahaz-e-Milli, or National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, was loyal to King Zahir Shah. The king was overthrown in a leftist coup in 1973 and since then has been in exile in Rome. It was also the most pro-Western of the groups. It wanted a modern secular Islamic state of the type represented by Turkey.
But Pakistan became the Taliban's foremost backer, and those who opposed and fought against the Taliban were ordered to keep quiet or leave Pakistan.
However, since the Pakistani government withdrew its support for the Taliban, the restrictions on Pir Sayed have been lifted. And the signs now indicate that he is being tacitly promoted by Pakistan as an alternative to the Northern Alliance.
The Pakistani government officially says it does not favor anyone in particular, but yesterday the government-controlled Pakistani media attended in force the press conference in which Pir Sayed laid out the plans for his Assembly for Peace and Unity of Afghanistan.
"The Assembly for Peace and Unity of Afghanistan, as the servant of the people of Afghanistan, calls upon all segments of Afghan society -- wherever they are, whoever they are, from the eldest to the youngest, from his majesty the former King of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance, and to those Taliban elements who recognize their religious and national and conscientious duty to contribute and come to forge unity -- to stand shoulder to shoulder, to make one voice, on one platform, under one umbrella to get together, to act together in order to free Afghanistan from this present evil situation."
Gailani said he favors a government that is broad-based and reflects different ethnic groups. He claims to have the support of the UN-recognized Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani as well as important figures representing the south, east, and west of Afghanistan.
"We sincerely believe that the problems of Afghanistan cannot be solved through limited understanding and agreements."
Gailani would not be drawn into expressing support for the U.S. and British air attacks on his country, but he termed them "a response to irresponsible acts against the world community."
He said Afghans had failed for years to agree on a unified government and had consequently suffered civil war and misery. But Gailani said he believes that Afghanistan's leaders and people have learned from past mistakes and know that war is not the way to achieve aims. He said there had been no victors in Afghanistan's long civil war, and the people are now ready to come together to forge a peaceful future for their nation.
"We therefore call upon all the Afghans, as we said formerly, wherever they might be, whoever they are, to accept our invitation to come together and attend a conference that we are planning on 21 October in Peshawar."
He hoped that Afghanistan's radical Taliban government would also not stand in the way of such a fresh start. If the Taliban does not give way, he said, "they will pay the price."
Gailani said that if the international community helps the Afghans to choose their own government, the fall of the Taliban could happen quicker than many envisioned. But asked when the Taliban would be overthrown and how soon he might enter the Afghan capital, Kabul, Gailani said:
"It's God's will, surrender to that -- but the earlier, the better. This forum is not a competition against anyone to see who reaches Kabul first. It is to invite everyone to collectively march to Kabul."
The new United Front of the Northern Alliance and the king is supposed to hold a preliminary meeting of its own soon in order to organize a traditional conference of tribal leaders, military commanders, political and religious representatives, and others to decide on the composition of a transitional government after the Taliban falls.
Gailani is related by marriage to King Zahir Shah, but recently there has been a rift between the two. Gailani has not said he is opposed to the United Front's initiative and he said he hoped that Zahir Shah, who he said was an important figure with a role to play in the country's future, will send a high-powered delegation to the 21 October meeting.