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RESPONSE TO TERROR | DIPLOMACY

U.S., Allies Urge Afghan Rivals to Govern Together

Diplomacy: U.N. envoy proposes a special post-Taliban council. World may have to assist, sources say.

November 14, 2001|ROBIN WRIGHT and WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In a diplomatic race to prevent bloodletting and fill a sudden political vacuum in the Afghan capital, the United States and its allies urgently stepped up pressure on Afghanistan's rival political factions Tuesday to form a post-Taliban government, while the United Nations moved to set up security forces for Kabul and other areas seized by opposition fighters.

Even as Pentagon officials described Taliban forces as fleeing in disarray, U.S. and European diplomats acknowledged that the regime's retreat from northern Afghanistan is a mixed blessing for the U.S.-led campaign in the country. The stunning military rout by the Northern Alliance happened so quickly, they say, that nothing is yet in place to provide order.

As a result, the outside world might have to play a more active transitional role until the Afghans assume the responsibilities themselves, U.S. sources said.

On Tuesday, special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has taken on increased responsibility for sorting out a post-Taliban Afghanistan, proposed the creation of a provisional council made up of all of Afghanistan's ethnic, religious and tribal factions.

The council should be chaired by someone recognized "as a symbol of national unity," Brahimi said, in a clear reference to Mohammad Zaher Shah, the octogenarian former monarch who has lived in exile outside Rome since his 1973 ouster. The council would then establish terms for a transitional government to last no longer than two years.

In Washington, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin backed the U.N. proposal.

"We support the U.N.'s efforts to fashion a post-Taliban government that is broadly based and multiethnic. The new government must export neither terror nor drugs, and it must respect fundamental human rights," Bush said at a joint news conference with Putin.

But that is a tall order, and U.S. and U.N. officials worked frantically behind the scenes Tuesday to get the process going. To fill the void, U.N. diplomat Francesc Vendrell was dispatched to Kabul to talk with the Northern Alliance--the coalition of minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others whose troops entered the city early Tuesday.

In Kabul, the Northern Alliance indicated a willingness to cooperate.

"We have invited the United Nations to send their teams [to] Kabul in order to help us in the peace process," said Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign minister. But he was also one of several opposition leaders who had promised to abide by U.S. pleas that their troops halt their advance outside the capital.

Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy James Dobbins met Tuesday in Rome with the exiled former monarch and then headed to Pakistan for talks with other ethnic Pushtun exiles.

The Pushtuns are Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group and are widely considered pivotal to a viable government. The Taliban is predominantly Pushtun.

"We need a critical mass, enough Pushtuns to make it credible, especially to encourage people who might revolt or defect from the Taliban," said a senior State Department official, alluding to the south of the country, the Pushtun and Taliban stronghold.

In the next few days, Brahimi said, the United Nations will convene a meeting with leaders of the Northern Alliance, who would then be joined by other groups to create a "framework" for a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The process is expected to include more than politicians and elders. U.N. officials hope the transition will incorporate Afghan nationals now working for U.N. agencies and private aid and humanitarian groups, along with Afghan professionals now living in Pakistan and Iran.

"It is these Afghans who can help constitute a transitional administration, which would be far more credible, acceptable and legitimate in the eyes of the population than a transitional administration run by the U.N. or another constellation of foreigners," Brahimi said.

U.N. officials also called for a temporary multinational force, probably composed largely of Muslim and European forces, to head off any challenges to the new government.

Turkey has volunteered to lead such a force, and Bangladesh and Indonesia are also possible contributors; the populations of all three are overwhelmingly Muslim. The Turkish army, with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization training and long years of field experience in battling Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey, is considered well prepared for Afghanistan's challenges.

In Washington, Putin said the most immediate need is to return peace and stability to Afghanistan, adding: "Of course, we do not intend to force upon the Afghan people the solutions. It is for them to resolve those issues with the active participation of the United Nations."

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