Prague, 22 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- For the past 20 years, peace in Afghanistan has seemed a distant, even unattainable goal. But last Sunday (March 14) in Ashgabat, the two sides reached a tentative agreement on power sharing, giving rise to some hope that the conflict may end, and perhaps even end soon.
In an effort to get a sampling of the two sides' differing views on the prospects for Afghan peace, RFE/RL this week first spoke by telephone with Dr. Abdulloh, the negotiator for Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's government. Abdulloh said:
"We welcome the signing of the agreement in Ashgabat because our opponents always talk about a military solution to the problems. We can consider this a positive step."
A United Nations statement released immediately following the talks said the two sides had agreed to exchange 20 prisoners of war as soon as possible and promised, the UN said, "to form a shared executive, a shared legislature and a shared judiciary." Some media reports interpreted this as meaning the coming formation of a coalition government. But telephone interviews conducted after the Ashgabat talks by RFE/RL's Tajik and Turkmen services with representatives from both Afghan sides indicate each has its own idea about what their initial agreement means.
Abdulhakim Mujaheed, the Taliban representative to the U.N., said flatly:
"The opposition to the [Taliban's] Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be allowed to participate in the central government and given a chance to participate in its executive, legislature, and judiciary."
Abdullah was more detailed in his view of what was to come:
"Our proposal was that we can reach [full] agreement based on two or three phases. The first phase would be a provisional government which could consist of neutral personalities or consist of people both from the Taliban and our side."
Abdulloh continued: "The second phase could be the formation of a broad-based government. The third phase would be the formation of a representative government through elections."
Both sides appeared to have agreed that any sharing of power should be based on representation by Afghanistan's ethnic groups. Again, Rabbani's representative, Dr. Abdulloh said: "The important issue is that after an interim period a broad-based government should be formed from representatives of the people of Afghanistan. We do not introduce [that is, present] ourselves as representatives of Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks or other groups. The Taliban also are not representatives of Pashtuns in Afghanistan. Our aim and our objective is to bring about the real representation [for all] the people of Afghanistan."
The Taliban's Mujaheed put the ethnic issue a bit differently. He said: "These ethnic groups are Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, Turkmen, Kyzylbash, and Beluch who share common history and culture."
But problems may lie ahead. Recent media reports have suggested that at least some officials on each side remain dissatisfied. Nonetheless, Mujaheed said the Taliban's leadership is "totally satisfied with negotiations and there are no differences." Dr. Abdulloh also said opposition "leaders are totally behind it." Both acknowledge that more talks will be necessary, and both suggest they will be difficult. First, Abdulloh:
"Our stand at the next round of talks would be to discuss about the leadership matter, because if the Taliban is expecting us to join the Emirate with them this is not possible and we are not expecting them to join us."
Mujaheed said: "We will not build a new government. Perhaps, opponents will be given a place in the government of the Afghan Islamic Emirate. And this will be based on ethnic groups living in Afghanistan, and will not include warlords or parties."
A date for a second round of talks between the two sides has not yet been scheduled.