The men who are vying to influence Afghanistan's future

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Burhanuddin Rabbani

A grey-bearded university professor inherited the leadership of the Northern Alliance from its legendary commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, who was assassinated the week before the 11 September attacks. In theory, Mr Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, arrives in a position of strength, the Alliance having mounted the offensive that drove the Taliban from Kabul. But he is not regarded as one who can lead his country through the upheaval of rebirth. His allies draw support from communities such as the Tajiks.

Zahir Shah

The ex-king may be 87 but he remains a popular figure in Afghanistan, and many look back on his 40-year reign as a period of unusual political calm. Despite having spent 28 years in exile in Rome his stock is high, with popular support for his return to Kabul as an elder statesman. Few believe, however, that at his advanced age Zahir Shah can do much more than provide temporary stability.

The former king has said he is sending a delegation of eight to Bonn, including two women.

Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani

An influential Pashtun leader and the leading figure of the so-called Peshawar group, which brought together several hundred pro-Pakistani Pashtuns in the frontier city last month in preparation for staking out a role in a post-Taliban power play.

In the Soviet era he stood out as a moderate mujahedin whose fighters' love of the good life earned them the tag the "Gucci guerrillas". Now he sees himself as a mainstream Pashtun leader.

He is also closely allied to the former king.

Abdul Rashid Dostum

An ethnic Uzbek who rose to power during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His power base, before the Taliban took over, was Mazar-i-Sharif. General Dostum has spent the past three years in exile in Uzbekistan and Turkey, but has returned as a potentially important power-broker. He has always been an uneasy ally of other leading figures in the Northern Alliance. In 1994, during bitter infighting among mujahedin leaders in Kabul, General Dostum staged an unsuccessful revolt against Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Hamid Karzai

The chief of southern Afghanistan's Popolzai tribe, and deputy foreign minister in Afghanistan's mujahedin government will, British officials say, be in Bonn and may emerge as the key Pashtun player at the talks. He is highly influential and commands the loyalty of many Afghans. Well educated, a fluent English speaker, he describes himself as a moderate Muslim. In exile for years, he slipped into Afghanistan after the American bombing campaign began and was almost captured by the Taliban.