Foreign ministers of the so-called "6+2" countries have pledged their support for intensified efforts by the United Nations to help bring about a representative government for Afghanistan. There was also a high-level meeting in the UN Security Council to underline its support for counterterrorism measures initiated in recent weeks. The meetings took place amid tense conditions at UN headquarters caused by the crash of a passenger jet in New York under unknown circumstances.
United Nations, 13 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Top officials of a Central Asian regional grouping have expressed their support for the UN-led process underway to find a political settlement for Afghanistan in anticipation of the overthrow of the Taliban regime.
The members of the "6+2" group (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, plus the United States and Russia), most of them represented at the foreign minister level, yesterday endorsed the work of special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in trying to advance the process of setting up a broad-based, multi-ethnic Afghan government.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters the 6+2 representatives were eager to move the process ahead quickly to keep pace with military gains of the Northern Alliance against Taliban forces: "The group stressed the need for speed and that as things are moving very fast we need to try and bring the political aspects in line with the military developments on the ground."
Northern Alliance forces, assisted by a U.S.-led bombing campaign, have scored a series of victories against the Taliban during the past several days. They have recaptured the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, as well as the western city of Herat.
And early today, the alliance entered the capital Kabul after a retreat by Taliban forces. The opposition fighters broke through Taliban lines north of Kabul yesterday following U.S. air strikes on Taliban defenses there. The apparent fall of the capital makes the issue of creating a post-Taliban government even more urgent.
Brahimi told reporters after briefing the "6+2" group that he hoped to meet "within days" with representatives of the main groups seeking a role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. He gave few specifics but did not rule out a role for Taliban members if they were willing to participate in the process: "I hope because of the developments on the ground we are going to try as soon as possible to get, hopefully, a representative sample of the Afghan population together and see what kind of interim arrangements we can work together for Kabul."
A UN official later said that Afghans involved in the new round of talks will include participants in the Rome and Cyprus processes as well as Northern Alliance officials, whose coalition is recognized as the representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations. Such a meeting could take place in either Geneva or Vienna in the coming days.
Brahimi reiterated in comments to reporters that it was important for Afghans to play the main role in deciding the shape and composition of any new government: "We have always insisted that this process should be home grown. It is the Afghans that are going to decide."
The officials taking part in the "6+2" meeting yesterday included U.S. Secretary-of-State Colin Powell, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, and Tajikistan's UN representative, Rashid Alimov.
Pakistan's foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, was also to attend but he was prevented from entering the UN complex during a security alert that took place as the meeting got underway.
As news unfolded of the crash of a U.S. passenger jet in nearby Queens, United Nations security officials decided to issue an alert, saying they were preventing vehicles or persons from entering the headquarters site but would not evacuate the buildings. The announcement came during the "6+2" meeting, which continued without interruption.
Afterward, a U.S. official told reporters that Powell and Kharrazi had a brief, friendly exchange in a hallway near the conference room where they met.
The official said the rare encounter came when Powell greeted Kharrazi and thanked him for his wish of condolences after hearing of the crash of the U.S. jet.
There were repeated expressions of sympathy by diplomats in various UN chambers yesterday. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw began his comments at a Security Council meeting on terrorism by noting the concern of diplomats that New York appeared to be victimized again: "We all understand that the news of this disaster, whatever its causes, at this time was bound to be doubly traumatic for the residents of New York City and for the people of the United States as a whole."
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring "unequivocal" condemnation of all acts of terrorism, regardless of their motivation. The council has already set up a committee of experts to oversee the implementation of Resolution 1373, which requires UN members to take steps to restrict the financing and movement of suspected terrorists.
The Chinese and Russian foreign ministers -- Tang and Ivanov -- both cited global terrorism links in attacks their countries have suffered in recent years. Russia's Ivanov stressed in comments to the council the need to wage war against all terrorists, regardless of their cause: "There can be no double standards. There can be no bad or good terrorists. Whatever slogans they hide behind, the war against them must be waged robustly and decisively."
Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, told the council that the ruins of the World Trade Center, where 4,500 people died, should be proof enough of what terrorism is: "Those who seek to define terrorism need look no further. No one can defend such heartless acts against innocent people. This is not about a clash of civilians or religions, it was an attack on civilization and religion themselves. This is what terrorism means."
Powell said counterterrorism measures involve a range of bilateral and multilateral actions by UN states. But he also stressed the need for domestic reforms in individual states to attack some of the root causes of terrorism: "The war on terrorism starts within each of our respective sovereign borders. It will be fought with increased support for democracy programs, judicial reform, conflict resolution, poverty alleviation, economic reform, and health and education programs. All of these together deny the reason for terrorists to exist or to find safe havens within those borders."
The Security Council is due to hear a briefing today from special envoy Brahimi, who will head off afterward for a new round of diplomacy in Central Asia.
Separately, U.S. diplomat James Dobbins, the top U.S. official involved in helping to set up a post-Taliban government, was expected to leave late yesterday on a trip to Europe and Central Asia to meet with government leaders and non-Taliban Afghan groups.
(The text of the 6+2 group declaration can be found at: http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/afghan/sixplus.htm)