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Afghanistan: Leaders Meet In Pakistan To Plan Post-Taliban Future

Afghan political and religious leaders, elders, and fighters finished a two-day meeting yesterday in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar to discuss their country's post-Taliban future.

Prague, 26 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Some 1,500 Afghans met yesterday in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, for what they called a "Conference for Peace and National Unity."

The conference was the largest gathering of Afghan leaders opposed to the Taliban regime since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September. Those attacks resulted in Afghanistan becoming a military target by an antiterrorism coalition led by the United States.

Those attending the meeting in Peshawar came to discuss what sort of government their country should have after the expected defeat of the Islamist Taliban rulers who control most of the country.

Those attending the conference condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States, which are believed to have been masterminded by Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, who is being sheltered by the Taliban. The meeting also called on the U.S. and its ally Britain to halt the current military strikes against Afghanistan and for foreigners to leave the country. That is a reference to bin Laden and the thousands of his Arab supporters who are believed to be fighting alongside Taliban forces.

The Peshawar meeting had been called by veteran Afghan politician Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan. Gailani was the leader of one of the main Afghan resistance groups who fought against Soviet troops when Moscow invaded in 1979.

Gailani has always enjoyed close links with former King Mohammad Zahir Shah. The king has lived in exile in Rome for 28 years after being overthrown in a 1973 coup. Gailani believes the king will play an important role in any transitional government.

The two-day meeting in Peshawar focused on swiftly establishing a traditional Afghan Grand Council, or Loya Jirga, with representatives from all sections of society. It is intended for the Loya Jirga to pave the way for a broad-based Afghan government that could operate from a demilitarized capital, Kabul, under the auspices of the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Afghan journalist and political observer Intulhaq Yasini, who attended the Peshawar meeting, described its conclusions in an interview with RFE/RL. He said those who attended want to cooperate with more moderate elements of the Taliban and that some of these moderate Taliban members even attended the meeting themselves.

"They were supporting a Loya Jirga, the former king, and they were demanding that people convey the message of this jirga, this meeting, to the people in Afghanistan. One important point was that some Taliban, who are now [still] working with the Taliban, came to this meeting."

Some of those attending advocated setting up a provisional capital in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan, by negotiating a bloodless handover of the city by moderate Taliban elements.

There was no mention at the meeting of the Northern Alliance, which has been battling the Taliban since 1996. The alliance was not directly criticized, but its representatives were not invited.

A final communique issued at the meeting says that if the Northern Alliance -- helped by the U.S. offensive -- seizes Kabul while there is a power vacuum following the collapse of the Taliban, such a scenario could lead to another civil war with what the document calls "a new phase of bloodshed and disorder."

The Northern Alliance is mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks, who form a minority of Afghanistan's population. Yesterday's meeting was predominantly composed of Pashtuns, the largest tribe in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, also wants a future government that gives Pashtuns a big say and has urged the inclusion of moderate Taliban elements in such a government.

Anti-Taliban political and military leaders have been trying to woo moderate Taliban members away from hard-liners for some time. One former opposition commander, Abdul Haq, who became a legendary guerrilla leader during the 1980s when he fought against the Soviets, was trying to establish contact with Taliban moderates. Western news agencies quote Taliban officials as saying today (26 October) that they have captured and executed Haq.

Yasini said that one of those attending the Peshawar conference was moderate Taliban member Mullah Zani Nawaz from the eastern Afghan Nangarhar province.

"[Nawaz] supported the Loya Jirga and former king. The former king is the national symbol for Afghanistan. He's the only personality nowadays that all Afghan groups can be close to and sit under his umbrella, under his leadership."

Yasini said Nawaz had brought religious leaders and elders from Nangarhar to the Peshawar conference and that others from Taliban-held provinces elsewhere in Afghanistan also attended.

"[Nawaz] told me that he has brought from every district [in Nangarhar] one representative. He said [they had] already established there small military groups on district levels in order to ask the Taliban to accept the formula of a Loya Jirga. If they [refuse], [Nawaz says his forces] will continue and uprise against them."

Yasini said it is not known when another such conference may be convened.

"In the near future, an immediate result cannot be expected from this [conference] because the Afghanistan problem is not to be solved in one day or one week. Another thing is that the Americans are concentrating on bombing. They do not talk about political [solutions]."

Yasini said the next step in the process of organizing a post-Taliban government could be the arrival in Peshawar of the former king, Zahir Shah, who many expect in Pakistan in early November. The former king has said he has no intentions of restoring the monarchy in Afghanistan.