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Afghanistan: Bonn Talks See Some Progress On Interim Government

  • Alexandra Poolos

Talks in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan's government were extended for another day today, with the four Afghan delegate factions considering a UN draft proposal on an interim authority for the country. Hard bargaining over power-sharing still lies ahead, as the delegates move into the crucial stage of naming some 30 representatives to the temporary administration.

Bonn, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan delegates began their seventh day of talks today after a late night debating a draft proposal on the framework of a new interim government.

Envoys from the Northern Alliance, supporters of the former Afghan king, and two smaller exile groups worked on the draft plan word by word, struggling to find the precise terms with which to put the draft into two Afghan languages, Pashto and Dari. They are continuing the process today and may finalize the agreement.

The UN-drafted plan envisages an interim administration of between 28 and 30 people to govern Afghanistan and an independent council of elders to convene a tribal gathering, or Loya Jirga, within six months. All factions have agreed that the Loya Jirga will establish a transitional administration to govern for two years, paving the way for a democratic constitution and eventual elections. The former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, will likely have a symbolic role in opening the Loya Jirga.

Although the Afghan delegates largely agree on the overall structure of the interim administration for Afghanistan, they have yet to decide who will run it.

Ahmad Fawzi, deputy to UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, says that no names have been submitted as of yet: "The names have always been a problem. This is my first foray into Afghanistan politics, but I'm told by those with more experience than me [that] you can have a beautiful agreement, but when it comes down to names it gets very difficult."

The Northern Alliance delegation was under a UN-imposed deadline to submit their list of names early today. So far, it is unclear if they have received permission from their leaders back in Afghanistan to do so.

In an interview with RFE/RL on 2 December, Northern Alliance delegate Aref Noorzay indicated that the Rome delegation -- which is led by former King Zahir Shah -- will be the group to name the head of the executive administration: "I hope that, God willing, tomorrow we will sign the final agreement. [The delegates] agreed that the prime minister [of the new executive body] will be appointed by the delegation of the former king. He will have five deputies, at least three of whom will be from the Northern Alliance. One of the five deputies will be a woman. The delegates have agreed on 28 ministries [in the interim government]. [The heads of] more than 14 of them will be from the Northern Alliance. Now there aren't any difficulties or any disputes. I hope the details will be finalized tonight."

Sources within the Rome delegation told RFE/RL that Abdul Sattar Sirat was elected by his delegation last night as the proposed leader of the interim administration. Sirat, who was a justice minister during Zahir Shah's rule, reportedly won the internal vote over Hamid Kharzai, a prominent southern Pashtun leader, and Amin Arsala.

But in talks today, other candidates emerged as possible leaders of the interim government. They include Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai; who is currently engaged in the fighting near Kandahar; Abdul Saweed Hamid; and the head of the Peshawar delegation, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani.

Much of the difficulty in naming representatives to the proposed interim government lies in accommodating the numerous groups and ethnicities that make up Afghanistan. Diplomats and delegates said yesterday that important Northern Alliance figures -- like Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni, who is leading the alliance delegation in Bonn, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah -- are likely to keep their jobs in a new executive administration. But it remains to be seen whether a role can be found for the Alliance's titular head, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

If the parties in Bonn succeed in agreeing on the draft, they will then propose a list of names to UN Special Envoy Brahimi, who in turn will produce a proposed administration with ministries for the delegates to negotiate further. The process is likely to take another day or two.

Fawzi said the UN wants the delegates to be in complete agreement on the final accord: "[The delegates] all said in their opening speeches: 'We favor a transition of power, we favor a transfer of power.' What we're doing is trying to put all these words into a document that will work, that they will abide by. We want to produce a document that is worth the paper it's written on -- not a weak agreement that they will not respect when they go home. They have to agree to every word in this agreement and implement it. And we will be watching, the international community will be watching very carefully how they implement the agreement."

The UN draft also refers to the need to quickly deploy a multinational force. Fawzi added, "The draft agreement does refer to the need to deploy a multinational force as early as possible. However, it also stresses that responsibility for security rests with the Afghan people themselves and the security forces in Afghanistan. But until such time as the Afghans themselves can build an army and a police force, the international community may assist them, if we are requested to do so by the people meeting in Bonn."

Some members of the exile factions say their members will return to Kabul to serve in a government only after some kind of multinational force is in position there, to dilute the hold of Northern Alliance troops on the capital.

Diplomats say a force could begin to be sent quickly, once the Bonn conference ends and after an authorizing vote by the Security Council. The size and mandate of such a force, which Britain is expected to organize, will not be decided here. A senior U.S. diplomat said yesterday, "The people sending the forces will determine numbers depending on circumstances and discussions with those in power in Kabul."

Officials hope the Bonn talks can be concluded tomorrow.