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Afghanistan: Uncertainty Prevails Ahead Of Afghan Meeting In Bonn

Representatives from at least four Afghan factions will meet in Germany starting on 26 November for initial UN-sponsored talks on creating a broad-based interim government in Afghanistan. But some critics believe the supporters of the conference are too optimistic about its possible outcome and doubt whether the talks, in the end, will satisfy their hopes.

Munich, 23 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says that even though next week's talks -- which are due to begin on 26 November near Bonn -- are being held under the umbrella of the United Nations, it is the Afghans themselves who hold the ultimate responsibility for their success or failure.

Other countries can offer advice or help, but Schroeder says these nations should not try to tell the Afghans how to proceed in establishing some form of interim government in Kabul.

"The Afghan leaders are coming to negotiate their own future government," Schroeder told reporters today in Berlin. "Other countries should refrain from making public suggestions on what they should do."

A senior official in the German Foreign Ministry, Ludger Vollmer, says it is unclear how the conference will develop but that it is important that the political situation in Afghanistan not deteriorate further following the collapse of Taliban rule: "It is important that Afghanistan should not slide into chaos after the defeat of the Taliban. The different groups which once fought each other should now sit at the same table to create a real nation with a constitution where the people think of themselves as the Afghan people and not as a collection of individual tribes."

Observers differ on whether the meeting -- which will be held at a high-security government center at Petersburg, near Bonn -- will be able to reach any meaningful decisions. German officials say they are disappointed that the Northern Alliance -- which is now in de facto control of most of Afghanistan -- was reluctant to attend and agreed to do so only under extreme diplomatic pressure.

The leader of the Northern Alliance, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, has called the Bonn meeting largely "symbolic" and said the real decisions will have to be made in Kabul.

The special U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, James Dobbins, told German television recently that he believes the Bonn meeting will be a first step toward creating a broadly based transitional government in Afghanistan. He said his recent visit to the country left him feeling optimistic that the meeting will be very useful.

But the representative of the Northern Alliance in London, Wali Massoud, told a German journalist that he doubts whether the Bonn meeting will be constructive: "The meeting may show that the United Nations is able to get a group of Afghans together for talks," Massoud said. "But much depends on who are the Afghans and who sets the agenda for the talks."

Massoud said he doubts whether some of those selected to attend the meeting represent the interests of the people actually living in modern Afghanistan.

The main participant in the conference is the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance, which now controls most of the country. Its discussion partners include supporters of the exiled king, Zahir Shah; an exile organization in Cyprus; and another group of exiles based in Pakistan.

The Northern Alliance has been particularly critical of the participation of the Cyprus group -- whose nominal leader, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, is a veteran of the war against the Soviet Union and is said to have the support of Pakistan.

Massoud said the Northern Alliance is wary of suggestions promoted by the United Nations for the Bonn meeting to name a 15-member executive council to govern the country for an interim period. It would be supported by a larger group of about 150 people, which would act as a form of parliament.

Massoud said there are reports that the UN wants to give five seats on the executive council to the Northern Alliance. The king's supporters and the Cyprus group would each get four seats. The remaining three would go to the exile group in Pakistan. Massoud said such a government would never be able to sustain peace in Afghanistan.

In Berlin today, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the United Nations will offer some suggestions when the meeting begins on 26 November but said it is "pointless to speculate now on what will happen afterwards."

The first participants are expected to arrive at the military airport in Cologne on 25 November and will be taken by helicopter to the Petersburg conference center. The German government said today it is not known whether any group will provide advance information about its own proposals.