Alliance under pressure to break talks deadlock

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The Independent Online

The Northern Alliance is under strong international pressure today to break the deadlock in talks on Afghanistan's political future by coming up with names of people it wants to have in an interim administration.

"We are pressing for something by the end of the day," said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the UN-sponsored talks now in their fifth day.

A delegation representing former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher Shah and two smaller exile groups have already prepared their lists, which UN mediators want to agree while all the parties are on neutral ground in Germany.

"Everybody else's list is ready," Mr Fawzi said, adding that mediators were exerting "very serious persuasion" to make the talks succeed.

The conference at a hotel near Bonn stalled last night after Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani insisted in Kabul that key decisions about an interim administration had to be taken in Afghanistan.

Other factions said they rebuffed an alliance request for a 10-day delay to name its people for two interim bodies ? an executive with a Cabinet-like function and a quasi-legislative supreme council.

But with his hardline remarks at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr Rabbani resisted US pressure for the alliance to agree on neutral ground in Germany on the first steps toward a post-Taliban government.

He also exposed a rift with the alliance delegates who are in Germany and have said publicly they want to reach a deal.

Negotiations continued into the early hours today and UN mediators will meet the various factions again later.

"We do not want to have an agreement that is not going be implemented or respected by all four, and especially by the party in Kabul," Mr Fawzi said.

Mr Rabbani said he opposed a consensus developing at the talks on the appointment, rather than election, of an interim governing council and on a major role for the former Afghan king.

He also objected to any international security force, saying he would prefer an all-Afghan force with 1,000 fighters from each faction. Any foreign contribution should be limited to 200, he said.

US envoy James F. Dobbins made plain that Washington wants a full accord in Germany ? including an agreement on people to sit in the interim bodies: "We are pressing a different view. It is important that this be overcome and that they go ahead, as this is a tremendous, maybe unique, opportunity for Afghanistan."

All sides have agreed in principle to set up an executive body that would have 15-25 members and the supreme council with up to 200. But the distribution of seats, the people to fill them and the role of the ex-king remain unresolved.

Exposing the complexities of leaving behind 22 years of war and civil conflict, delegates hinted at splits in the Northern Alliance delegation itself.

Gulam Mohammad Yailaqi of the former king's delegation said his side would present its list of interim representatives today and that there were indications that some northern alliance delegates would break ranks and do the same.

"We will give our list and some factions of the Northern Alliance may go along with us," Mr Yailaqi told The Associated Press.

Ismail Khan, an alliance leader running the eastern city of Herat, insisted that people in Afghanistan should not be pressured into accepting new leaders ? or a continued foreign troop presence. "Any government and any leader imposed on the Afghan people by foreign countries won't be able to last for long," he told Al-Jazeera television, alluding to the ex-king.

"The Afghan people should be allowed to determine their faith and future," he said.