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Afghanistan: Second Day Of Bonn Talks Sees Little Progress

Afghan delegates began their second day of talks in Bonn, Germany on forming an interim government to temporarily rule Afghanistan until a Loya Jirga, or grand council, can be called sometime in the spring. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos is attending the Bonn conference and files this report.

Bonn, Germany; 28 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In contrast to the fanfare marking yesterday's opening of a UN-sponsored conference on the formation of a post-Taliban interim government, the mood at talks today was decidedly subdued.

UN officials say little progress has been made so far by the some 30 delegates attending the Bonn talks. Four Afghan factions are represented at the week's conference, including the Northern Alliance, a group led by former Afghan king Zahir Shah and two exile groups based in Pakistan and Cyprus.

Francesc Vendrell, the UN's deputy representative for Afghanistan, said at a press conference today that although the atmosphere at the talks remains good, there is no way to anticipate what, if anything will come of the discussions:

"I think the atmosphere, I've noticed, is very good. That doesn't mean it will remain always very good. In these kinds of meetings, at the very beginning, one feels very happy to see often people one has met at school or at university or even on the battlefield, and the atmosphere gets rather warm. There could well be ups and downs in the course of these talk, but so far, so good."

Vendrell said that UN officials and Western leaders are working on the sidelines of the talks to "prod and push" the delegates toward reaching an agreement on an interim administration to govern Afghanistan for a period lasting anywhere from three to six months.

But he warned that it was unrealistic to expect major agreements to be made during the short span of the conference:

"People are sitting here and discussing the future of Afghanistan for the first time in 28 years and therefore you can't expect everything to be resolved in four or five days."

Vendrell reminded journalists today that with a donor's conference in Berlin just around the corner, the delegates are on a tight deadline to reach an agreement. He said that billions of dollars in international aid are riding on whether the Afghans can successfully create an interim authority for the country.

So far there has been agreement that the 87-year-old Zahir Shah should hold some type of non-governmental figurehead position. It remained unclear, however, whether the former king would go to Afghanistan in the near future. Vendrell:

"The former king of Afghanistan enjoys widespread, I would almost say unanimous, respect amongst the Afghans, and he has an unmatched popularity in terms of any other figure. That does not necessarily mean that everybody who is a power holder in Afghanistan agrees to give him a role. I think there are indications that most people amongst the delegates would like, across the four groups that are here, that they would like to see a role for the former king."

At a press conference held later in the afternoon, Northern Alliance Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni disagreed with the notion of granting the former king a leadership role in Afghanistan's future government.

Qanuni said that the Alliance does not support placing any one person in a leadership role. He said the Alliance is instead standing behind the Loya Jirga method of governance, in which representatives from all groups gather to make important decisions.

One main question facing the delegates is how to stabilize their country, which is still at war. Vendrell said the delegates have not even begun to discuss whether they will allow a multinational peacekeeping force to enter Afghanistan:

"This issue is, of course, a very important one in these talks, but we have not had an opportunity to discuss this issue at length with any delegation and quite honestly, I think that this will be an issue that will need quite a lot of work and you should not expect an immediate agreement on this matter."

Qanuni later reiterated the Northern Alliance's resistance to allowing a multinational peacekeeping force patrol Afghanistan. He said that, so far, there are no "security concerns" in the country.

"As we have made clear in the past and in the present also, we prefer that security is looked after by Afghan forces themselves -- a force composed of different ethnic groups and different parties. And still we insist on that. So far, there has not been any detailed discussion about the combination or the composition of the peacekeeping force."

Vendrell said that -- contrary to some expectations -- there so far have been no power-grabbing moves by any members of the delegations and that the sometimes fractious ethnic groups have maintained cordial and productive working relations.

Another pressing point is whether the delegates will take concrete action to improve the situation for women in Afghanistan. Vendrell said today that despite the importance of this cause, the delegates are in Bonn not to focus on social issues, but on the formation of an interim council.

It seems unlikely that all of the issues will be hammered out by the end of the conference in two to three days. Qanuni said that, although delegates are agreeing on general issues, such as having an interim authority, the "finer" points have not really been addressed yet. He said that talks will likely have to continue in Afghanistan.

Qanuni also made clear that if talks should continue in Afghanistan, he wants them to be held in what he called "the historic city of Kabul." But holding any such talks there could be a complicated issue, since the Northern Alliance controls the city and it is hardly neutral territory.