Ooovored the conference, since its fighters now


Ooovored giving Afghanistan (news – web sites)’s former king a role as a unifying figure.

Delegations representing the northern alliance, exiles backing the ex-king and two smaller exile groups all pledged to seek a power-sharing formula as they began talks under strong international pressure to end more than two decades of war. While the Afghans are meeting, the United States, Russia and neighbors such as Pakistan and Iran are exerting heavy influence from the corridors. Regional stability and billions in development aid are at stake. ”The atmospherics for the opening session were remarkably good,” said James F. Dobbins, the U.S. government’s Central Asia envoy.

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”The prospects of us making some progress are pretty good.” Dobbins said detailed discussions were only beginning, but he suggested the factions could agree to establish former king Mohammad Zaher Shah – who has lived in exile in Italy since his 1973 ouster – as uniting figure. ”Everybody sees the ex-king as a rallying point and hopes that he will be ready and able to play that role,” he said. Zaher Shah is a Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, estimated at between 40 and 55 percent of the population. The Pashtuns – whose participation is seen as key in any government – have no separate delegation at the talks, though there are Pashtun representatives in each of the groups. The northern alliance, made up mainly of members of the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic minorities, holds a strong hand entering the conference, since its fighters now control around half the country and hold the capital, Kabul. During their first closed session, the delegates agreed that their goal was to establish an interim administration that would be followed by the convening of a national assembly of tribal leaders, or a loya jirga, possibly by the Afghan New Year, in March, U.N.

spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters. The assembly would then approve another transitional administration that would govern for up to two years. After that would be a second loya jirga, which would approve a constitution that will guarantee rights for all Afghans, women included, and a goal of elections, Fawzi said. The leaders also agreed to try and reach a consensus in three to five days, he said. In a strong Pashtun endorsement, Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai telephoned the conference room from Afghanistan. Fawzi read excerpts from the call: ”We have been made extremely poor and vulnerable but we are a strong people who would like to assert our will and a sense of self-determination,” he said. ”This meeting is the path toward salvation.

” Due to rapid developments on the battlefield, key warlords – including Karzai – stayed home, sending sons, sons-in-law or key aides instead. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer opened the conference at a luxury hotel overlooking the Rhine River, urging delegates ”to forge a truly historic compromise that holds out a better future for your torn country and its people.” The delegates must agree on binding rules for a future political system and respect for human rights, particularly for women, whose participation is ”essential for the country’s peaceful future,” Fischer said. The northern alliance delegation here said it would not use its battlefield victories to seek advantage. ”It is not our pride to monopolize power. It will be our pride to work for a broad-based government based on the will of the people of Afghanistan,” the northern alliance delegation leader Younus Qanooni said. However, the alliance’s titular head, Burhanuddin Rabbani, said the Germany talks were unlikely to yield substantial results.

He told reporters in Dubai that the Bonn talks ”should be the last meeting held outside Afghanistan. I don’t expect decisive results from the meeting.” Rabbani, a Tajik who was ousted from the presidency by the Taliban in 1996, has never given up his claim to the post. He had pressed for the conference to be held in Kabul, which is controlled by his forces. Each of the four delegation heads underscored the need for flexibility and an interim authority that would include all Afghans.

Two women were among the Afghan delegates at the table. At the foot of hill where delegates met, about 30 Afghan women rallied for greater rights in their country, where the Taliban stripped away nearly all women’s rights. About 300 supporters of the exiled former king also demonstrated.

The former king’s grandson, Mostapha Zaher, descended from the hill to greet the crowd. He told reporters that talks were proceeding in a friendly atmosphere and expressed optimism they would succeed. ”We are going to get peace.

That’s what we came for,” Zaher said. The talks at Peterson, a secluded luxury hotel across the river from Bonn, Germany, are seen as a historic opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan and avert a repeat of fighting between rival warlords after they drove out Soviet occupiers in 1989. Western nations have linked the prospect of billions in reconstruction aid to the creation of an interim administration and respect to human rights by Afghanistan’s new rulersWords/ Pages : 839 / 24

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