Defectors must join talks, says Pakistan

War on Terrorism: Talks
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The Independent Online

Pakistan insisted that "new forces rising" in Afghanistan must be given a say in a future Afghan government.

After talks with Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in Islamabad, and ahead of crucial talks between the rival Afghan factions in Bonn next week, Abdul Sattar, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, said there could be a role for Taliban who had changed sides.

"Many of the generals in the Northern Alliance were once allied to the Soviets during their intervention in Afghanistan," he said. "They have been forgiven for that so I think others who might have been allied with one side or another should not be excluded for that reason alone."

The "new forces rising in different parts of the country" could be added to the list of participants for the Bonn meeting, he said.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign spokesman, warned Mr Straw on Tuesday against any attempt to include Taliban figures in a new administration.

The British Government is pinning its hopes on the Bonn talks to take the first steps towards eventual stable government in Kabul and sanction a United Nations-backed stabilisation troop forcewhile the process continues.

The fresh prospect of a force involving British, Muslim, West European and Canadian troops emerged yesterday after talks between Mr Straw and Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf.

Ministers now accept that the talks – of which next week's gathering in Bonn is seen as only the first phase – could take many months to reach a successful conclusion.

The Bonn session, likely to last for between five and 10 days, is expected to do little more than agree on an all- important framework for further progress.

Among the many obstacles the political process will have to overcome are deep differences over the role of the Pashtun in a future government. But because of the length of time the process is expected to take, ministers are hoping that next week's session will approve plans for the UN-backed multinational force, to which the British government is warming.

Such a force, coalition leaders believe, could allow the breathing space needed for what promise to be hugely difficult talks – not least because of differences over the role in a new administration for the Pashtun, the largest tribal group, including those who may have originally sided with the Taliban.

Mr Sattar, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, also expressed concern yesterday that Pashtun representation would not be at a high enough level in the broad-based government that all parties in next week's talks are theoretically committed to establishing. "We are supporting [the UN special envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi in his efforts to select a representative group," he said. "We are confident that with his knowledge and background he will use all his efforts. It is very difficult at this time with new forces arising in different parts of the country. We can only hope and pray that the choice he makes will lead to a broad-based transitional administration."

British officials continue to insist that the issue of ex-Taliban involvement will not in the long term destroy hopes of an agreement. They acknowledge that the Northern Alliance has a political structure which the Pashtun lack but they believe that a stronger leadership will emerge.

Mr Straw insisted yesterday that hardcore Taliban figures would not want to take part in the talks "even if they had the choice, which they will not do". But he drew a distinction between those and others who had supported the Taliban at the point of a gun. "Of course it's accepted that those people who support, or allege support was not a matter of ideology or evil but for reasons of personal survival and protection of their families and communities, could find a place in a future government."

A senior British official travelling with Mr Straw, although optimistic about the eventual outcome, acknowledged a "miracle" would be needed if a settlement was reached within six months.

Mr Straw went out of his way yesterday to underline the proposals, which Francesc Vendrell, the UN's deputy special envoy to Afghanistan, made public after meeting him on Thursday night.

It did not, he said, envision blue-bereted UN troops but was for an "explicit" UN resolution, "which would give authority to what would amount to a coalition of the willing, drawn from countries which had experience of deploying their troops in similar circumstances.

"My view is that there may well be a need for such forces, and there has been for some time," he added.

Such a move could confer wider international legitimacy on the kind of force envisaged when Britain first put several thousand troops on 48-hour stand-by last week.

The proposal was discussed yesterday by Mr Straw with General Musharraf who pointed out that the Organisation of Islamic Conference had already sanctioned a potential international force of Muslim countries. Western allies envision that force would include troops from Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt or Bangladesh.

General Musharraf told Mr Straw that OIC forces "and others" could participate in such an operation, which would at once protect humanitarian aid as well as ensuring no repeat of the catastrophic internal conflict that raged in Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996.

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