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Another Gordian knot
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 11 - 2001

Afghan representatives meeting in Germany are under increasing pressure to come up with an agreement, reports Abdel-Azim Hammad from Bonn
Representatives of the Afghan factions taking part in talks in Bonn to determine the shape of the future government in Kabul were under mounting international pressure to reach an agreement as they entered a second day of negotiations yesterday. No room for failure is now the undeclared slogan of the conference, hosted by the German government, according to one delegate.
The Northern Alliance representative Younis Qanooni's opening speech on Tuesday was clearly an attempt to reassure delegates that the anti-Taliban force now in control of Kabul had no intention of monopolising power.
In addition to the Northern Alliance, supporters of Mohamed Zaher Shah and the so-called Cyprus and Peshawar groups are at Bonn. The Cyprus group represents Afghanistan's Shiite minority, while the Peshawar delegation are drawn from the Pashtun majority.
While welcoming Qanooni's remarks, the spokesman for the Peshawar group remained sceptical that the Northern Alliance would accept any real sharing of power following its recent military success. With massive US air support the Alliance has extended its control over 70 per cent of Afghanistan.
Burhaneddin Rabbani, leader of the Northern Alliance, welcomed the Bonn talks, but maintains that future negotiations should be held inside Afghanistan. Informed sources say negotiations could move to Kabul if the Bonn talks prove positive.
After being told on Tuesday by their German hosts and UN sponsors that the world was ready to help on condition that they abandon long entrenched factionalism, delegates yesterday started tackling the complex details of any power sharing agreement in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
UN Spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said the conference would form an Interim Supreme Council of Afghanistan, a cabinet- style body that will oversee administration for three to six months. It will also create an Interim Administration of Afghanistan, a kind of parliament, and then convene an "emergency Loya Jirga," or grand council of elders, to decide on a new constitution.
This process should be completed by March or April 2002, around the time of Nawrooz, the traditional Persian new year, said Fawzi.
On the military front the Taliban, now only in control of a handful of provinces in the south around their Kandahar headquarters, denied that its leader, Mullah Mohamed Omar, or Osama Bin Laden, had been hit in a hastily arranged US air raid on a compound allegedly used by the movement.
The compound hit by warplanes southeast of Kandahar was the latest target in the US hunt for Bin Laden. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not have the names of the Al-Qa'eda or Taliban leaders believed to be inside the compound, but said they were of "appreciable" importance.
Rumsfeld also warned that the US campaign in Afghanistan was entering a dangerous phase, but vowed: "We'll pursue them until they have nowhere to else to run. Let there be no doubt: this campaign is far from over."
US officials claimed they were tightening the noose around Bin Laden after narrowing their hunt to the Kandahar region and an area east of the Khyber pass that includes Jalalabad. They would not say whether US forces or their allies had begun to search the vast network of caves and tunnels believed to be used as Al-Qa'eda and Taliban hideouts.
But Rumsfeld said Pakistani forces were monitoring 170 mountain passes along their border with Afghanistan to block any movement of Al-Qa'eda or Taliban forces. He also said prisoners were being interrogated and information was pouring in as a result of the $25 million bounty offered by the US on Bin Laden's head.
In northern Afghanistan Northern Alliance commanders said their forces, backed by US and British special forces, had put down a bloody rebellion by hundreds of non-Afghan pro-Taliban prisoners of war at a fort near Mazar-i-Sharif.
Alliance fighters were in complete control of the sprawling fortress of Qala-e-Jangi after wiping out the last pockets of resistance.
The mud-brick facility, the target of waves of US air strikes, was littered with the corpses of POWs, burned-out vehicles and shell casings. One television report showed 60 bodies, believed to be Taliban supporters, scattered across a courtyard.
"We subdued the last of those who were resisting this morning [yesterday]," said General Abdul-Atif, one of the commanders who led the assault. "In total, we killed 450. None wanted to surrender." The dead, he added, were Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and Uzbeks.
The prisoners had surrendered to Alliance forces last weekend in Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold in the north of the country, and were transferred to Qala-e-Jangi fort. They rebelled on Sunday in conditions that remained unclear, taking over the prison and seizing weapons and ammunition from their jailers, and putting up fierce resistance under machine gun and tank fire and pounding by US warplanes, killing 45 to 50 Alliance fighters according to one commander.
The Pentagon said five US military personnel were hurt during an air raid on Sunday. Witnesses at the scene said one American, possibly a Central Intelligence Agency operative, was killed at the start of the rebellion.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organisation, called for an inquiry into the uprising and the "proportionality of the response" by the Northern Alliance and US and British military personnel.
The inquiry "should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life," Amnesty said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Additional reports from news agencies
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