Afghan rivals edge closer to peace deal

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The Independent Online
AFGHANISTAN'S main rivals for leadership have agreed in principle to share power, spurring hopes of an end to the fighting which has devastated the capital, Kabul, writes Raymond Whitaker.

President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Islamic hardliner Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who says his rival obtained his office by rigging a loya jirga, or grand tribal assembly, shook hands when they met yesterday in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. The previous evening they had come face to face, for the first time for several months, at the official residence of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, where they joined other Afghan leaders for sunset prayers and dinner.

As dozens of bearded, heavily-armed bodyguards waited outside, the two men yesterday discussed a formula, brokered by Pakistan, for Mr Rabbani to remain president while Mr Hekmatyar becomes prime minister. Afterwards Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said they were 'very close' to signing an agreement.

It still remains for other factions to agree to the share-out of cabinet posts. But if the Hizbe Islami leader agrees to be prime minister, the plan will have a much greater chance of success than any previous attempt to stop the fighting.

Mr Hekmatyar, who arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday at the head of an armed convoy, has poured thousands of rockets and shells into Kabul since the mujahedin front which ousted the Najibullah regime last April began fighting among themselves.

Pakistan, his former backer, has carefully orchestrated the peace talks, in which representatives of Saudi Arabia and Iran have also taken part.