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Afghan Opposition Leaders to Meet in Turkey - 2001-10-26

Leaders of the Afghan opposition are set to meet in Turkey early next week to try to establish the framework of an interim government that would replace the ruling Taleban. Amberin Zaman interviewed a senior Afghan opposition official in Ankara and filed this report from the Turkish capital.

Elmurad Arghoon is the Ankara representative of the Afghan government that was toppled in 1996 by the hardline Islamic Taleban faction.

Mr. Arghoon says next week's meeting in Ankara will bring together representatives of the exiled Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, and members of the opposition Northern Alliance who are fighting the Taleban to regain control over their country.

Mr. Arghoon said the purpose of the meeting is to finalize a list of 120 members of what he calls a Supreme Allied Council. The council is expected to form the core of a planned special meeting of all Afghan religious, ethnic and tribal groups known as a Loya Jirga. A Loya Jirga, according to Afghan tradition, is convened in times of national turmoil to unite the country's disparate clans and factions.

Hundreds of Afghan exiles and tribal leaders held a two-day meeting in the Pakistani city of Peshawar this week. The Peshawar meeting condemned Afghanistan's ruling Taleban and September's terrorist attacks in the United States. It also called for a quick end to the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, saying it is time for a political solution to the crisis.

Mr. Arghoon dismissed widespread speculation that the Supreme Allied Council would be expanded in size during the Ankara meeting to include so-called moderate members of the Taleban. He said Pakistan, which has backed the Taleban, supports efforts to include the Taleban in any future Afghan government. He described Pakistan's role in seeking to influence the future of his country as being "unhelpful." But Mr. Arghoon is also critical of the United States.

Mr. Arghoon said the U.S.-led air campaign against Taleban forces has "continued for too long" and caused high civilian casualties. Mr. Arghoon believes the United States must send in ground troops immediately if it is to be successful in its efforts overthrow the Taleban.

The Northern Alliance selected Turkey as the site for next week's meeting for several reasons. For one, Turkey has refused to recognize the Taleban, saying its militant Islamic policies are anathema to the secular principles laid down by the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. Instead, Turkey has maintained strong ties with members of the Afghan opposition.

Turkey is also the NATO's only predominantly Muslim member and has offered its full support to U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism.