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Afghanistan: Delegates Make Some Progress In Forming Interim Council

Afghan delegates meeting outside Bonn, Germany have gotten down to the hard work of hammering out agreements on the makeup of an interim council and administration to run Afghanistan until a Loya Jirga, or grand council, is called in the spring. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports from Bonn on the day's progress.

Bonn, Germany; 29 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- This afternoon the four Afghan delegations attending the Bonn conference are debating appointees to the interim council, which may have as many as 200 members. A temporary administration, with between 15 and 25 members, is also being discussed.

Amin Farhang, an adviser in the Rome delegation led by the former Afghan king, Zahir Shah, said two committees have been set up to debate the issue of interim council membership. Farhang said Zahir Shah's delegation and the Northern Alliance delegation would each have five members on the committees. The two smaller exile groups -- the Cyprus and Peshawar delegations -- are also to be consulted. Farhang says:

"A Supreme Council of National Unity is going to be established. We revived this old name [for the council]. A number of its members have been determined. Two commissions have been set up with five members from each group and they will be discussing the names and the lists and come to a final solution and they will also be talking to the Cyprus and Peshawar groups so that at the end we will have formed this Supreme Council. We have raised the number of Supreme Council members to 200."

There are no hard numbers on how many representatives each delegation will be allowed to place on the council, but Zahir Shah's Rome-based group and the Northern Alliance group are sure to dominate. The two smaller exile groups will have nominal representation on the council.

Ahmad Fawzi, deputy to UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, said that in the negotiations, "some members are more equal than others" -- meaning the smaller groups are outnumbered by the Rome and Northern Alliance delegation. But he said the smaller groups' voices were still being heard.

Brahimi met with each of the delegations separately late last night. Now, says Fawzi, there is a clear idea of what each delegation wants:

"Now we have four clear ideas of what needs to be achieved. Four groups. Four clear ideas. We have yet to see the emergence of one clear idea and one coherent idea or set of ideas that could constitute an agreement."

Fawzi refused to elaborate on what the four positions are, but said delegates are "fine-tuning" their decisions.

So far there has been no agreement on any of the issues facing the conference: namely, the composition of the interim government, whether Zahir Shah will serve some type of symbolic leadership role, or whether an outside security force will enter Afghanistan.

Fawzi emphasized today that if the delegates decide on the formation of the interim administration and council, the conference in Bonn will be a "success." Other issues, he says, can be decided by the council itself, possibly in later meetings in Kabul:

"We are hoping that the groups will make a decision unanimously. We are hoping for consensus on all or some of the items on the agenda. We are hoping that they will reach agreement on the formation of the interim administration and the supreme council."

Fawzi said that UN officials are pressing the delegates to make decisions:

"They are making headway. [Special] Representative Mr. Brahimi and his team are slowly nudging them forward with advice and guidance and support."

Allowing an international security force in Afghanistan had appeared to be the sticking point of the conference, which is due to close on 1 December. Although the Rome and Peshawar delegations had voiced clear support for outside forces entering the country, members of the Northern Alliance delegation had opposed such a move.

Today, however, Alliance Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni indicated that he had softened on the issue. He said that although he did not think it was necessary, he did not rule out the use of peacekeeping troops:

"And as I said, I've declared my position and that is that whenever it is required and if it is necessary, then we are not opposed to the deployment of international troops."

He added that the mandate for such forces should include strict border patrols, to prevent any interference from Afghanistan's more powerful neighbors.

"As far as the question of the international force is concerned, I also expect that they will control the borders of Afghanistan in order to make sure that [the country] is not violated by neighboring countries, which could destabilize peace and security."

Qanuni did not discuss the possible composition of such a force.

UN deputy Fawzi said that security in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, is of "paramount importance." But he made clear that the UN would not insist on a security formula:

"It's an important issue. We've said security is of paramount importance. You can't have an administration functioning in an environment of chaos and anarchy, where there are guns all over the place. We need security, especially in the capital Kabul, if only to start with. However, this is the destiny of their country. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of those Afghan leaders sitting up on the hill on Petersberg. If they don't reach an agreement on security here, they're going to have to reach an agreement on security elsewhere. If we can have an agreement on one of these issues the conference will have been a success."

Fawzi closed his afternoon press conference today by stating that the UN and the international community must continue to support the delegates as they attempt to build a new government for Afghanistan:

"The international community, which is represented by the United Nations, has failed Afghanistan over the past 22 years. If we had not turned our back on Afghanistan 10 years ago, we would not be sitting here today."

Fawzi said the international community has now risen to the challenge of rebuilding Afghanistan as never before. He said Afghanistan's problems will never again receive as much attention and commitment as they do now. Fawzi warned the Afghan delegates to seize the opportunity, and move away from what he called "the abyss."