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Afghan Political Conference to Face Numerous Hurdles - 2001-11-20


U.N. officials say the Afghan political talks expected to take place in Germany next week are aimed at setting up a broad-based transitional administration in Kabul now that the Taleban has lost control of nearly all of the territory it once held. The talks will face considerable hurdles, but U.S. officials are hoping the session will be productive.

U.N. special envoy Francesc Vendrell says the Northern Alliance, which now controls most of Afghanistan, has agreed to attend the power-sharing conference in Berlin. Mr. Vendrell made the announcement at a news conference in Kabul after days of intensive talks with various Afghan leaders.

Acting Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, told the same news conference that the Northern Alliance will be sending a delegation to the talks, which are aimed at establishing a multi-ethnic broad-based interim government to replace the Taleban.

The head of the Alliance, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani has said in an interview the meeting in Germany would be symbolic. He maintains that substantive decisions on political future of his country can only be taken at meetings held inside Afghanistan.

But officials of the U.S. led coalition hope the Berlin meeting of Afghan parties will have more than symbolic importance. Kenton Keith is a U.S. spokesman for the newly-opened Coalition Information Service in Islamabad.

"I guess in his [Mr. Rabbani's] mind, it might be symbolic but as far as the outside observers are concerned this is an extremely important step. It is the first step that needs to be taken in a series of transitional moves. You might call this symbolic, but we think that it is very substantive as well

The Northern Alliance will be one of four main Afghan factions taking part in the conference. Representatives of Afghanistan's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, will also attend.

Anti-Taleban leaders and U.S. officials maintain there will be no role for the Taleban, which rapidly lost control of nearly all of the country this month after relentless U.S. bombing and attacks by Northern Alliance ground forces.

The Northern Alliance is largely made up of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. The Taleban consists mainly of Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Most observers say next week's U.N. sponsored talks in Germany have little chance of succeeding unless ethnic Pashtuns who do not belong to the Taleban take part in the gathering.

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