Leaders' gathering ends with call for king to lead unified government

War on terrorism: Summit
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The Independent Online

Afghan tribal leaders and former mujahedin ended a two day gathering with a call for the deposed king of Afghanistan to lead a new government of national unity and for the "foreign" forces of Osama bin Laden to leave the country.

But the gathering, dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, made no mention of the Northern Alliance, whose forces are at the gates of Kabul, leaving a question mark over whether all the tribal clans of Afghanistan will be able to forge a government among themselves. The Northern Alliance mainly claims support from the minority ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

The meeting of 1,500 Afghan elders in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar focused on swiftly establishing a Loya Jirga, a traditional grand council of the country's elders, to pave the way for a broad-based government that would operate from a demilitarised Kabul under the auspices of the United Nations and Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

It also saw a role for moderate elements of the Taliban – thus satisfying Pakistan, the Taliban's main supporter which has pressed for their inclusion in any long-term settlement.

In an apparent reference to the US-backed Northern Alliance, the resolution said: "Military operations carried out by the US and its allies may cause the fall of the Taliban regime at any time, which will create a political vacuum. If that vacuum was filled by a particular group through military operations, it would turn to a new phase of bloodshed and disorder and would afflict our nation with new misfortunes. We, the participants of this conference, want that political struggle to be accelerated to forestall the creation of such a situation".

The final declaration was read out by Pir Ahmad Gailani, the organiser of the conference and ally of ex-king Zahir Shah, who is now in exile in Rome.

Although the Taliban were not officially represented, there were some officials from the hardline rulers present as well as members of other Afghan groups and parties.

The elders expressed the hope that "the former King will play an effective role [using] his moderate and balanced policies, to put an end to this crisis".