With the Taleban in rapid retreat, the United States is appealing to the other political and ethnic factions in Afghanistan to "move quickly" to establish a broad-based interim government. The appeal from the State Department came as the U.S. special envoy to the Afghan opposition James Dobbins, flew to Islamabad to continue an urgent mission aimed at promoting a coalition among the country's splintered anti-Taleban factions.
Mr. Dobbins met in Rome with exiled Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who is considered a potential head of an interim coalition. Then, after a brief stop in Ankara, he went to Islamabad for meetings with Pakistani leaders and exiled Afghan factional leaders.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. aim is a political arrangement that can at long last give the Afghan people peace, stability and a government that can live in harmony with its neighbors:
"We all want to encourage all the Afghan factions, all the Afghan leaders, whether they're Northern Alliance people, whether they're tribal people, whether they're Pashtun leaders inside Afghanistan or Pashtun leaders outside Afghanistan, to move quickly towards the establishment of broad-based political arrangements for the future of Afghanistan," he said. "And that has been the thrust of our efforts in these meetings with various parties."
The rapid advance of the Northern Alliance over the last week has been accompanied by accounts of looting and summary executions of captured Taleban fighters that have drawn U.S. condemnation.
But spokesman Boucher said initial signs about the behavior of Alliance troops since their move into Kabul earlier this week have been, in his words, "fairly good". "We have made clear, in our discussions with the Northern Alliance, the importance of respect for human rights and for discipline by their troops. And I would say for the moment, the initial signs are good," he said. "They're keeping most of their forces out of the city. And the reports from the city of Kabul indicate life is returning to normal, commerce is open, businesses are open. People are out in the streets in a way that they had not been able to do for several years."
Officials here say Mr. Dobbins will spend at least a few days in Pakistan, and say the visit may include a trip to the northwestern border town of Peshawar where key Pashtun exile leaders are based.
Pashtuns, Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group, formed the core of the Taleban movement and their participation is seen as crucial to any post-Taleban coalition.