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UN: Envoy Says Afghan Leaders Committed To Power Transfer

The United Nations' special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in the midst of a quick visit to Kabul to assure that leaders there remain committed to turning over power to a new interim administration on 22 December. The UN envoy told journalists in the Afghan capital yesterday that he feels confident the handover will go as planned, even as the details of many key issues remain unresolved.

Kabul, 12 December 2001 (RFERL) -- UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's remarks to the press in Kabul last night were sketchy on details but full of confidence that the 22 December power turnover will go as planned.

The envoy -- speaking after a full day of meetings with top officials of the Northern Alliance government in Kabul -- said the leaders assured him they remain committed to the handover deal struck in Bonn a week ago.

The accord, reached by four major factions based in and outside of Afghanistan, calls for an interim administration to rule the country for six months starting on 22 December. The interim administration is to be headed by ethnic Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, with key ministries going to the mostly minority-based Northern Alliance. The interim administration will be responsible for preparing for a national assembly, or Loya Jirga, that will establish a follow-up transitional government to lead the country toward general elections.

Brahimi said he met during the day with outgoing Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, who will assume the same key posts in the interim government. Brahimi is expected to meet today in Kabul with Karzai, who has been overseeing developments in Kandahar.

The UN envoy said that, despite objections from some parties to the details of the Bonn accord -- particularly from ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum -- he feels confident the accord will be implemented without changes on 22 December. Brahimi:

"The news we hear, particularly from General Dostum, is that although he is unhappy about a number of things [still], I think he has assured us in very, very clear and strong terms of his commitment to implementation of the agreement in Bonn."

Brahimi said he had received the assurances from Dostum in a recent letter.

The envoy also said he is confident that objections by some Northern Alliance officials to the deployment of a large multinational force of peacekeepers in Kabul will not present obstacles to the turnover.

Defense Minister Fahim has said he feels a force of just 1,000 peacekeepers will be sufficient. He also is reported to have said the Northern Alliance is not bound under the Bonn accord to withdraw its security forces from the capital -- only its military forces.

Brahimi said, "There is no opposition from authorities in Kabul to an international [peacekeeping] presence authorized by the UN Security Council." But he left vague how any disputes over the size of the force might be resolved, saying only that he personally is not authorized to speak about numbers.

Brahimi also said such questions will have to be resolved by whichever country leads the international peacekeeping force. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said London is ready to take a leading role, but the leadership of the multinational force and its size have yet to be determined.

The UN envoy also said he does not feel that objections to other parts of the Bonn accord raised by Rabbani will present obstacles to its implementation. Rabbani had threatened at times during the Bonn negotiations to withhold his agreement, raising questions as to the strength of his commitment to the final document.

Brahimi said he is confident that Rabbani's commitment is now firm: "It is no secret that [Rabbani] also was unhappy with a number of things that have taken place. He would have liked the agreement to contain, for example, a supreme council composed of 10 to 20 people, including all the leaders of the jihad [the Soviet-Afghan war] in the past. He has repeated these concerns, but he also committed himself in no uncertain terms to cooperation with and support of the [Bonn] process."

While saying he was encouraged by his day of talks in Kabul, Brahimi refused to go into details of how any of the objections he mentioned have been smoothed over. It remains unclear whether such objections will resurface after 22 December to bedevil the new interim administration.

Brahimi said he believes no changes to the Bonn accord should be discussed until after the power transfer takes place.

"I think if any changes are to be made, they should be made after 22nd [December], when you have an interim administration. And I presume the chairman of that administration, with his colleagues, may -- like any administration -- make some changes."

There are a number of other concerns the administration may have to address immediately, including paying wages to government employees that are now months in arrears. Brahimi was asked at the press conference if the UN will help with the payments in order to guarantee the stability of the new administration. The UN envoy said that, once the interim administration is in place, the question of back pay will be studied by the international community.

"Once this interim administration is installed, I am sure that this will be one of the first issues it will deal with. And the international community in general, and the UN in particular, will do everything to help the interim administration address this question, which is so important."

Brahimi is due to leave Kabul today for Islamabad, where he will hold talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. He then flies on to New York for a briefing of the UN Security Council, which may happen as early as Friday (14 December).