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Afghanistan: Delegates Hammer Out Interim Government; Aid Crisis Continues

  • Bruce Pannier

Afghan groups meeting near Bonn, Germany, to discuss the political future of their country agreed today on the framework for a provisional government. The new transitional government will be headed by Pashtun tribal commander Hamid Karzai and will take office on 22 December. Meanwhile, efforts to supply Afghanistan's population with humanitarian aid to survive the winter are having mixed results. As temperatures drop, millions in the impoverished nation are threatened with starvation.

Prague, 5 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- After nine days of UN-sponsored talks, representatives of four Afghan factions gathered at a chateau outside Bonn today to sign an agreement for a post-Taliban administration for their country.

The 30-member interim government, with a six-month mandate, will be headed by Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, who is currently in Afghanistan leading the attack on the last major city controlled by the Taliban -- Kandahar.

Although Karzai was named chairman of the government, the Northern Alliance -- which has done the bulk of the fighting against the Taliban -- took the key ministerial posts of defense, foreign affairs, and interior. Other groups, including Afghanistan's women, also were included in the list of new officials.

The conference gathered representatives from the powerful Northern Alliance, the Rome-based group of former King Mohammad Zahir Shah, and the so-called groups of Cyprus and Peshawar.

The United Nations' special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke today with satisfaction about the conclusion of the talks: "The United Nations and the entire international community feel a tremendous sense of hope in the knowledge that an agreement has been reached here in Bonn that provides an opportunity to end the tragic conflict that has plagued Afghanistan for over two decades."

Brahimi said the accord also calls for United Nations peacekeeping forces to be deployed.

The new government will be sworn in on 22 December in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The interim authority will rule Afghanistan until a broader-based government can be set up. The agreement is expected to lead to a constitution and popular elections within two and a half years.

Not all positions in the interim government have been filled, and the identities of about 10 positions were not disclosed while efforts were made to contact the appointees.

For example, only five of 16 places reserved for members of the Northern Alliance were announced as filled. Eight places on the interim administration went to members of the Rome group, while one was allotted to the Peshawar group and one to the Cyprus group. One government position -- public health minister -- was given to an independent, Suhaila Seddiqi. Another woman, Sima Samar from the Rome group, will be in charge of women's affairs.

Hamid Gilani, the chief representative at the talks from the Peshawar group, said he hopes the agreement will finally give the Afghan people a chance to help choose those who will run the country: "We hope that today's agreement will be a cornerstone of peace in Afghanistan, that we will have a free Afghanistan, where the people will have the opportunity to choose their government."

Humoyun Jarir of the Cyprus group said the accord by itself does not solve all of Afghanistan's problems, that the country will still need help establishing stability after more than 20 years of war: "We think that this agreement will solve all the problems of Afghanistan only if it will earn the impartial support of the international community and the United Nations."

Yunus Qanuni, named to be the interior minister in the new interim government, said at today's signing ceremony that "after a period of several wars, we want to become the champions of peace."

Qanuni, who was the leader of the Northern Alliance delegation at the talks, also remembered those who he said had fought for so long to bring about today's agreement: "We are proud that we today achieved what we said we would do on the first day of the talks. Today, we are witnesses to Afghans coming together for the signing of the agreement. The [mujahedin] who fought for 23 years for salvation are becoming the heroes of peace."

Not on the list of interim government members was Afghanistan's recognized president, Burhanuddin Rabbani. Speaking from Kabul after the announcement, the Northern Alliance's Abdullah Abdullah, who was named foreign minister in the new government, said that, although Rabbani did not receive a post, he has not been forgotten: "So far, President Rabbani has not made it clear what role he would like to play. But of course, as the former president of Afghanistan -- which will be after that date, he will be the former president and the leader of the United Front -- he will have influence in the events to come. He will have some sort of presence, but about the specific role, he has not decided yet."

Meanwhile, efforts to bring humanitarian aid to needy Afghans are picking up. An Afghan aid donors' conference opened today in Berlin. Germany's special commissioner for rebuilding Afghanistan, Michael Bohnet, told reporters today that a top priority is to get an assessment team into Afghanistan in order to determine exactly what aid is needed.

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) says it hopes to complete its survey of Kabul's needy by the end of this week. A WFP spokesman in Kabul, Khalid Mansur, says some 1.2 million of the city's inhabitants will have been surveyed by then. Mansur says there are probably about 750,000 people in Kabul alone who are in need of food, clothing, and other supplies to make it safely through the winter.

Russian aid planes continue to land at Bagram air base, about 50 kilometers outside of Kabul. Two more planes arrived today with five tons of food, and officials with the Ministry for Emergency Situations say there are 26 more tons of supplies waiting to be shipped from warehouses in Tajikistan.

Yesterday, the eighteenth convoy of Russian aid traveling by truck crossed the Tajik-Afghan border bound for distribution centers in northern Afghanistan.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

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