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A push and a shove
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 12 - 2001

Compromise was hard won among Afghan delegates hashing out a post-Taliban scenario, but the final accord may set the foundation for a happy ending in Afghanistan, reports Abdel-Azim Hammad from Bonn
Until early Tuesday, and despite tremendous pressure from US envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, on all participants at the United Nations-sponsored meeting of Afghan opposition factions in Bonn, there was still significant doubt that the conference would end with a firm agreement on a power-sharing interim administration for Afghanistan.
Yet, on Wednesday morning Afghan rivals finally agreed on most members of a post-Taliban government headed by Pashtun chief Hamid Karzai to lead their shattered nation toward democracy and begin a mammoth rebuilding task with billions of dollars in Western aid. The Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
The agreement, crafted by UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and four Afghan factions, was signed at a hotel near Bonn with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in attendance.
The transfer of power from Northern Alliance (NA) leader to Karzai was scheduled for 22 December, said UN spokesman Ahmed Fawzi. He added, however, that 11 of 30 cabinet posts had not been decided.
Filling some of the top positions in the interim government are the NA's Mohamed Fahim, deputy chairman and defence minister; Sima Samar, deputy chairwoman and minister for women; Haji Mohamed Mohatteq, deputy chairman and minister for planning; Hedayat Arsala, deputy chairman and finance minister; Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister.
The interim administration would be in power for six months, or until a special commission could convene an initial, emergency loya jirga, or traditional Afghan tribal council, Fawzi told reporters on Sunday.
A transitional government would precede the establishment of any final council, he said. No one would serve in both the interim government and the commission choosing the loya jirga, he added.
In the interim, a supreme court and other entities would be convened, Fawzi said. A commission to draft a new constitution would be created within two months, he said.
According to delegates and diplomats taking part in the Bonn meeting, reaching a consensus on the list of names that would form the interim government in war-torn Afghanistan was the main stumbling block to restoring a modicum of peace in the devastated nation.
Not surprisingly, NA leader and former President Rabbani, whose Jamiat-i Islami Party currently controls the capital Kabul, emerged as one of the main stumbling blocks to the crucial Bonn talks. Rabbani, who sent Interior Minister Younis Qanooni in his stead, still managed to issue strong opposition to the proposals put forth by even his own delegation. He also delayed submitting a list of proposed names for an interim government, urging Qanooni to press for a suspension of the talks so that the two could confer back in Kabul. The request was denied.
As the opposition faction in possession of the capital -- largely thanks to the cover provided by the US Air Force, although against US wishes -- Rabbani insisted that the Northern Alliance should take a major share in any future Afghan government. This stand was not popular with the other Afghan delegates in Bonn, especially those representing other ethnic groups such as the majority Pashtun and the minority Hazara. Representatives of former Afghan King Mohamed Zaher Shah, a Pashtun who has been living in exile for over 30 years since his ouster, were also opposed to the dominance of the NA, which is largely composed of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. Two other "processes," the so-called Cyprus process and the Peshawar process, round out the meeting and are largely made up of intellectuals and exiles. The Cyprus group mainly represent the Shi'a Hazara, and is thus backed by Iran.
Amid the tough negotiation over who will head the upcoming interim government, Rabbani reportedly rejected all four of the names tabled by the delegates: Karzai, Abdel-Qadir Sirt, Pir Sayed Ahmed Jilani and Sibghat-Allah Mujaddadi. Another point of contention among the delegates related to a proposal to form an international peace-keeping force in Afghanistan. The United States seemed reluctant to accept the idea of the immediate deployment of an international force, fearing that it would hinder its military operations in Afghanistan. Germany, which many observers expected to be among the first nations to support the call for an international force, announced that it would not play a leading role in any such a force.
As of early Tuesday, however, an atmosphere of optimism began to prevail. Spirits were buoyed by the expectation that an agreement was within reach -- something that was achieved only after strong pressure from the US and Germany. US envoy Dobbins and Germany's Foreign Minister, Fischer, reportedly made clear in telephone conversations with President Rabbani that the NA's negotiation tactics -- the rejection of proposed leaders and insistence on its own candidates -- was rapidly leading to a total collapse of the conference.
Dobbins is said to have phoned Rabbani in Kabul and urged him to accept the list of names, setting Tuesday noon as a deadline. Meanwhile Fischer put in another call to Rabbani on Monday evening and advised him to end his resistance to NA members being appointed to the interim administration. Fischer "told him that there is a window of opportunity that has to be utilised," one inside source told Al-Ahram Weekly. It was the second time that Fischer had interceded in the talks regarding Rabbani. Last week, he phoned his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in a bid to put pressure on the NA leader.
The concerted diplomatic efforts seemed to have come to fruition soon after Fischer's phone call, when Rabbani -- still the internationally recognised head of state -- gave his approval to the NA nominations. Around noon on Tuesday, reports began to emerge that the new interim government for Afghanistan was expected to be installed in Kabul next week.
The United Nations was determined that the four groups negotiating near Bonn since 27 November should not leave the conference without agreeing on the composition of an interim cabinet. "The interim government will be installed one week after the signature [of the Bonn accord] and thereupon enjoy international recognition," a Western diplomat acting as an official observer at the conference said. "This will mean that Rabbani is no longer recognised [as Afghan president]."
Diplomats observing the talks said they had expected to hold a formal signing ceremony for the power-sharing deal yesterday. But Rabbani's manoeuvrings posed a further obstacle that the NA delegation, and, incidentally, the conference as a whole, had to overcome. The effort to appease Rabbani is evident in the preamble to the accord, which reportedly contains language expressing deep appreciation for Rabbani's "readiness" to transfer power to an interim authority.
Following the successful resolution of the interim administration issue, US envoy Dobbins appeared more conciliatory on the issue of an international peace-keeping force. He told reporters that there will definitely be an international force in Afghanistan, but the size of that force and its jurisdiction will be determined after the Bonn conference. Dobbins stressed that the force would not include soldiers from countries neighbouring Afghanistan, namely, Pakistan and Iran. He added that the US would have a limited role in such a force, but expected that it would remain on the ground in Afghanistan for at least two years.
Providing an international peace-keeping force has been a key demand for Afghan factions living in exile as a means of ensuring that the NA does not take advantage of its presence in Kabul and impose its own agenda.
However, the formation of an interim government in which all ethnic groups are represented would have appeared to be a mere chimera before the 11 September attacks in the United States. An agreement like that emerging out of Bonn might be a real victory for all Afghans.
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