Government U-turn on Northern Alliance

War on terrorism: Opposition
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The government indicated that the Northern Alliance could form the next administration of Afghanistan, just days after stating that they were unfit to rule.

Last week Tony Blair was adamant that the Alliance would not have Britain's backing if it seized power. Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials maintained that the Allies would prefer the exiled King Zahir to take part in a Loya Jirga, an assembly of military and political leaders, to decide the country's direction.

Yesterday, however, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, refused to rule out the Alliance. He said any administration that cut links with terrorism could be acceptable.

He admitted that the Alliance might take control from a Taliban regime weakened by the Allied action. " I think that is one of the possible outcomes," said Mr Hoon.

Mr Hoon refused to comment on reports that the military commanders of the Alliance had been warned in advance about Sunday's air strikes and that future co-operation was likely between the Alliance and the Allies.

The apparent change in the views of the British Government will cause anxiety within a Pakistani government that used to sponsor the Taliban and is deeply hostile to the Alliance (which is backed, among others, by India). General Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, yesterday warned that the Alliance must not be allowed to take advantage of the Allied strikes.

Iran and Russia, the main backers of the Alliance, have just delivered large amounts of weapons, and Alliance forces are now close to Kabul.

Ahmed Wali Masood, the Alliance envoy in London, yesterday insisted that Pakistan should not have a say in the make-up of any post-Taliban government.

"Please leave us alone, we can make our own destiny, our own government," Mr Masood, the brother of Ahmed Shah Masood, the assassinated Alliance leader, said.