State Department planner draws task of framing policy for post–Taliban Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Looking past the Taliban, the Bush administration is stepping up consultations with Afghanistan's neighbors and with foes of the ruling militia on a future government.

Richard Haass, head of the State Department's policy planning office, was named Monday to oversee the operation. Haass also will hold on to his assignment as President George W. Bush's special envoy for Northern Ireland's peace process.

Even while insisting it has no intention of choosing Afghanistan's next government, officials of the Bush administration have denounced the Taliban as unrepresentative of the people and insisted on change.

Haass has met in Rome with the king deposed in 1974, Mohammad Zaher Shah, who at 87 is thought to be a possible focus point for a loose governing coalition. Undersecretary of State John Bolton has undertaken other soundings. Meetings have been held with expatriate Afghans in Germany and Cyprus.

Afghanistan's opposition northern alliance, long at war with the Taliban, and tribes in the south that have close ties to Pakistan, are likely recruits.

One potential for conflict: Pakistan's antipathy to the northern alliance, which calls itself the United Front. While the alliance has been helping the United States with its counterterrorism campaign, Pakistan is the only country that has maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban.

The two main U.S. criteria for a new government are that it must not harbor terrorists, as the Taliban has given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al–Qaida network, and it must be acceptable to Pakistan, Iran and other neighbors.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters Monday on his flight to Pakistan that "if we are truly interested in a post–Taliban Afghanistan that represents all of the interests of the various factions and elements of Afghan society, then I think we have to listen to them, and no one nation has a veto over them."

Haass' work parallels that of Lakhdar Brahimi, a U.N. special representative, who has been in contact with the main groups in Afghanistan.

"We're staying in touch with all the parties that we've long worked with," Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman, said Monday. "That includes the U.N. It includes various Afghan groups and others in the international community."

Views will be exchanged at meetings in Shanghai, China, in midweek, and then this weekend with officials of 20 countries, including Russia and China, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Presidents Jiang Zemin of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia will be engaged in the talks with Bush and others, Reeker said.

Powell is attending a meeting of foreign ministers Wednesday and Thursday in Shanghai. The heads of government will meet Saturday and Sunday.

The United Nations will continue to play the central role in seeking stability in Afghanistan, Reeker said.

"Peace and stability can only be established in Afghanistan through the formation of a broad–based government that represents all geographical and ethnic backgrounds," he said.

Haass, 49, is an experienced diplomat and troubleshooter. He has held posts at the National Security Council on the Middle East and South Asia and at the State Department and Pentagon before joining the Bush administration.

Haass was vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, before joining the Bush administration.

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