Bonn receives attendees to conference on Afghan governance
BONN, Germany -- Delegates of four key negotiating groups were streaming into Bonn Saturday and Sunday for the opening of talks to establish a broad-based, interim government for Afghanistan.
The conference is to open Tuesday morning, rather than Monday as originally planned. The discussions, to be held in a secluded hilltop hotel that once served as a retreat for Adolf Hitler, were delayed for at least a day to give representatives time to reach their destination.
The talks, expected to last up to two weeks, have been arranged by the United Nations in an attempt to restore stability and democracy in the country after more than 20 years of vicious, nearly nonstop fighting.
The delegations will include members of the united front, the name given the loose alliance of anti-Taliban forces dominated by the Northern Alliance.
The alliance, made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic minorities, is likely to be in a strong position, having already taken control of much of the country in a series of swift military strikes against the crumbling Taliban regime this month. Its 21-member delegation is to include a woman, officials said.
Others attending have been organized under the name "the Rome Group," which includes members of the so-called Peshawar Group, a Pakistani-backed assembly of exiled leaders of the Pashtuns. The ethnic group, which comprises about 40 percent of Afghanistan's population, is the largest and most dominant group in the country.
Also expected are members of "the Cyprus Group," whose interests are backed by Iran. The former Afghan king, Zahir Shah, will also be attending, traveling from Rome, his home-in-exile.
The Northern Alliance pledged to cooperate with rival exiled leaders during the talks. Its foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said his group was ready to share power in a broad-based administration.
"It is a unique moment for Afghanistan," Abdullah said. "The whole situation has changed inside Afghanistan, in the region and in the international community... In the international community, there is a new focus on the situation in Afghanistan. All these factors create a unique opportunity, which all of us ... should seize."
The Northern Alliance is "fully aware of the urgency" of the situation said Abdullah. He pledged support for a "peaceful process or a political settlement which will bring about a fully broad-based, multi-ethnic government."
Many Afghans are suspicious of the Northern Alliance's motives. It monopolized power the last time it ruled Kabul, the Afghan capital, between 1992 and 1996.
Mullah decries 'evil government'
Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said earlier this month that his leaders would not participate in what he described as an evil government" should a new bureaucracy be established in Kabul. It appears unlikely that conference participants will voice any enthusiasm about allowing Taliban operatives to participate in a new coalition government.
Rather, officials said Sunday, the Taliban would be thinning ranks, with Afghan members disarmed and sent home, and others -- most likely the Pakistanis, Saudis and others who fought as Taliban militia members -- liable to stand trial for war crimes and other offenses.
The Taliban, a U.S. official said Sunday, would be too weak to mount any comeback.
"It is unlikely, we think, that they will be able to reorganize and pose a threat to what we hope will be an emerging political situation," said Kenton Keith, who represents the anti-Taliban coalition's interests in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
Hopes for the conference run high, but attendees said they doubt that they could devise a quick solution to Afghanistan's long-running problems. The talks will be merely the first step toward a government, said delegates.
Pre-conference plan calls for the establishment of a democratic government in Afghanistan within two years.
Should an agreement be struck at laying the foundation for a new Afghan government, a grand council of tribal chiefs, known as the Loya Jirga, will have to consider the proposal.
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