Turkish officials have confirmed that Afghan opposition groups will meet in Turkey in the coming days to establish a framework for a new interim government that would replace the ruling Taleban forces in Afghanistan. Representatives of Afghanistan's exiled former king, Zahir Shah, as well as members of the opposition Northern Alliance are expected to take part in the meeting.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz told a news conference Wednesday that Turkey has agreed to host the meeting, but he said said he did not know where or when it would take place. Mr. Dirioz added that Turkey would facilitate the meeting but would not take part in the deliberations.
The announcement follows widespread media reports that Afghan groups had sought Turkey's permission to hold the meeting on Turkish soil.
Afghan opposition officials say the purpose of the gathering is to finalize a list of 120 members of what they call a supreme allied council. The council is expected to set the stage for a special meeting of all Afghan religious, ethnic, and tribal groups known as a loya jirga. According to Afghan tradition, a loya jirga is convened in times of national turmoil to unite the country's disparate clans and factions.
Afghan opposition officials say they hope to hold the loya jirga on Afghan soil. One of its prime goals would be to elect an interim government that would lead the country until national elections could be held.
The meeting of Afghan opposition leaders comes amid mounting fears within the Bush administration that the removal of the Taleban from power could lead to the sort of factional fighting and lawlessness that prevailed after the collapse of the Soviet backed Afghan government in 1992.
Analysts say the choice of Turkey as a location for the opposition gathering signals Turkey's expanding role in the international debate on the future of Afghanistan.
Turkey, NATO's only largely Muslim member, has opened its skies and bases to U.S. fighter jets and transport planes in the military campaign against the Taleban.
Turkey has also expressed its willingness to contribute to a proposed international peacekeeping force that would be deployed once that campaign is over.
Turkey, which has historic and ethnic ties with Afghanistan, says it is opposed to any future government that would include members of the hardline Islamic Taleban movement.