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Northern Alliance willing to meet deposed Afghan king

Kandahar, Afghanistan
Journalists inspect ordnance that the Taliban said U.S. planes dropped outside Kandahar, Afghanistan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Northern Alliance is willing to meet with Afghanistan's deposed king in Europe in hopes of assembling a government to succeed the embattled Taliban, an opposition representative said Sunday.

The Northern Alliance, which moved into the Afghan capital last week following a Taliban withdrawal, had invited representatives of all Afghan factions to meet in Kabul to assemble a new government. But the United Nations would rather see the conference held in Europe, said Haron Amin, the opposition's U.N. representative.

"We would have wished for the council of national unity to have taken place by now in Kabul with the former monarch, the king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah," Amin told CNN. "But then apparently the U.N. wants it elsewhere, in Germany, and I know that the king's people are also coming there."

Mohammed Zahir Shah, Afghanistan's former king, was deposed in a 1973 coup and has been living in Rome, Italy. He has offered to lead an interim government as a transitional figure but said he is not interested in restoring the Afghan monarchy.

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The time and place for that meeting have not been set, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News on Sunday that "I would hope it would be within days, not within weeks. We've got to get this moving."

The Northern Alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, met with Jim Dobbins, the U.S. envoy to the Afghan opposition, Sunday morning in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and has offered his support for a U.N.-led process, Powell said.

After a week of Northern Alliance advances, backed by U.S. aerial bombardment and military advisers, the Taliban have been left in control of only a third of Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Friday. The Taliban remain in control of their political and spiritual base around Kandahar but are negotiating a withdrawal with leaders of southern Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes, sources told CNN on Sunday.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that the United States is encouraged that the Northern Alliance is willing to participate in a political process that leads to a broad-based government rather than trying to keep power.

"What you're seeing here is, I believe, a willingness of the Northern Alliance to wait for the process at least to get under way," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition." "That government cannot be Northern Alliance only, and we've made that very clear."

The alliance has been critical of Pakistan, which supported the Taliban until the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, said the coalition trying to remove the Taliban from power "must learn the lessons of history."

"We know that 10 years ago, 12 years ago we had won the war against the then-Soviet Union, but the whole international community lost the peace," she said. "We must not lose the peace again."

Pakistan has about 2.5 million Afghan refugees living within its borders, Lodhi said.

"We must ensure that a broad-based, multiethnic government is quickly formed by the Afghans themselves with the U.N. performing the role of a facilitating agency, so we can get on quickly with the job of economic reconstruction and the repatriation of refugees from my country," she said.

U.S. officials also call for a broad-based government, but Powell and Rice made it clear that Washington does not want to see any Taliban representation in a new regime.

"Clearly, the Taliban leadership and those who have been associated with the Taliban most closely cannot possibly be a part of this because obviously they have wrecked the country," Rice said. "They've been incredibly repressive."

Powell also indicated that the United States would encourage the opposition groups to include women in the discussions surrounding a post-Taliban government.

"We're not going to dictate what they do with their government," he said on ABC's "This Week." "It has to come out of the Afghan people.

"But we hope they will realize, having gotten rid of the Taliban, having gotten rid of these deprivations and these degradations that they were putting on women and against women, it is now time to allow women to participate more fully in Afghan society and that includes the political structure of a future Afghan government."


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