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UN: Special Envoy Outlines Way Out Of Afghan Abyss

  • Robert McMahon

UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has proposed that a conference of all main Afghan groups be held as soon as possible to decide on a transitional administration to lead Afghanistan out of conflict. The plan envisions calling an Afghan tribal conference, or Loya Jirga, to eventually prepare a new constitution and create a broad-based government. Brahimi has asked his deputy to go to newly liberated Kabul to help meet with Northern Alliance officials and help establish a central UN role in plotting the country's future.

United Nations, 14 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The international community's top diplomat for Afghanistan has presented a detailed plan outlining how Afghans can create a new, representative government to replace the faltering Taliban regime.

UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the UN Security Council yesterday that the continuing military advances of the Northern Alliance opposition have created an extra sense of urgency. Brahimi said he would end his shuttle diplomacy and instead has called for a conference of all major Afghan political movements to be held as soon as possible.

He asked the Council to authorize a five-step plan in which Afghan's main ethnic and regional groups would set up a provisional council chaired by a figure seen as a symbol of national unity. It has been suggested that this figure will be the former Afghan king, 87-year-old Zahir Shah. Brahimi also said members of the Northern Alliance, as well as political groups backed by Iran and Pakistan separately, could take part in the conference that picks a provisional council prior to calling the Loya Jirga.

This council would propose a transitional administration to serve for two years.

Brahimi said the emergency Loya Jirga would then be held to approve this administration and begin the process of writing a constitution and choosing a government. The United Nations, supported by the "6+2" group (Afghan neighbors China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, plus Russia and the U.S.) would guide the process throughout, Brahimi added, but it must be directed by Afghans.

"The bitter experience of the last 10 years shows that the solution must be carefully put together and must be homegrown so that it enjoys the support of all the internal and external players and so that there are no spoilers from the inside or outside who would disrupt its implementation." Brahimi drew up the plan after extensive consultations in Pakistan and Iran with both political leaders and members of the huge Afghani diaspora in both nations. He said that Afghans who have lived outside of the country and have experience with international organizations could be especially helpful in building an accountable governing body.

Brahimi said Afghans living in Iran and Pakistan in particular could be helpful in creating a responsible government.

"It is these Afghans who can help constitute a transitional administration, which would be far more credible, acceptable, and legitimate in the eyes of the population than a transitional administration run by the UN or another constellation of foreigners."

Brahimi said a security force would be needed to maintain stability as the country moves to a post-conflict phase. He said he would prefer an all-Afghan security force but said it is unlikely such a force could be set up in a short period of time. His second recommendation is for a multinational force. Brahimi stressed that he would not recommend UN peacekeepers, who he said are better suited to maintaining already existing peace agreements.

"The pervasive presence of non-Afghan armed and terrorist groups with no interest in a lasting peace will necessitate the introduction of a robust security force able to deter, and if possible defeat, challenges to its authority."

Brahimi said he is sending his deputy, Francesc Vendrell, to Kabul, which the Taliban fled yesterday, to engage in unity talks with the Northern Alliance.

Security Council members are expected to endorse most features of the plan laid out by Brahimi, who is a widely respected figure with deep knowledge of Afghan issues. Council members meet in consultation today and may vote on a resolution approving Brahimi's outline as soon as tomorrow.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters at UN headquarters that the primarily U.S. and British coalition forces assisting the Northern Alliance are likely to play a security role in Afghanistan in the short term.

Like other council members, Straw supported Brahimi's proposal for an all-Afghan conference, which he said could take place within days. A venue has not yet been set.

Straw said there will certainly be a role at the talks for Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, even if they served the Taliban regime.

He said many Pashtuns who worked with the Taliban have abandoned them in recent days.

"There isn't any space in a new broad-based government for people from the Taliban -- with a capital 'T'. There is certainly space for people who represent the Pashtun community, and it's essential that they're there." Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar did not specify the need for Taliban representation in his address to the Security Council yesterday. But Sattar expressed concern about a power vacuum developing in Kabul and the danger of further conflict and turmoil. He said it is important for a multinational force to take charge in Kabul, with backup support from the U.S.-led coalition forces.

"Fears have been expressed of reprisals and even of ethnic cleansing in parts of Afghanistan. Such a disaster needs to be prevented. Otherwise, hopes of preserving the unity of Afghanistan would suffer a mortal blow." Speaking after Sattar was Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who again expressed his country's concern about the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Taliban, citing civilian casualties. But he also said the fall of Kabul was an important new development that could lead to the establishment of a stable temporary administration in Afghanistan.

"The liberation of Kabul should be viewed as a military necessity which should be followed immediately by urgent action by United Nations to establish -- in consultation with Afghan groups -- an interim administration." Both Kharrazi and Pakistan's Sattar said a peaceful and friendly Afghan government would be vital to the future stability of the region. And they urged the international community to act swiftly on humanitarian aid for Afghans at risk inside their country.

UN officials say as many as 6 million Afghans are at risk inside their country and relief groups must act fast to bring in supplies before delivery routes are cut off by winter snow. UN officials were gauging the security situation in Kabul and elsewhere before authorizing a mass return of international staff.

(Brahimi's speech to the Security Council can be found at: