A senior U.N. official says he plans to travel to Afghanistan to meet with senior northern Alliance officials about convening a meeting of all of Afghanistan's political and ethnic factions to decide a future government.
The deputy U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, says he believes the Taleban have all but collapsed and that former King Zahir Shah will have a significant role to play in a new post-Taleban government.
Mr. Vendrell also has said he will travel to Kabul as soon as possible to hold talks with Northern Alliance leaders. He says the purpose of his visit will be to develop a consensus among Afghans for how to proceed with setting up a transitional government. But he has said the task will not be easy.
"What we are trying to do is to help the Afghans set up a transitional body, and this transitional or interim body should be as broadly representative as possible of the various ethnic groups. But it will of course probably not satisfy everybody in Afghanistan," he said.
Mr. Vendrell says the United Nations is not in the business of deciding who or who is not the legitimate or illegitimate government in Afghanistan.
Northern Alliance officials have rejected including any Taleban elements in a future government. The Taleban supreme leader, Mullah Omar, says the Taleban prefer death, than to be included in what he describes as an "evil government."
The U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution encouraging "all nations to support efforts to ensure safety and security" in parts of Afghanistan no longer under Taleban control. Alarmed by the security situation inside Afghanistan, senior Pakistani officials in recent days have called on the U.N. to set up a peacekeeping force for Afghanistan.
Mr. Vendrell says a multi-national force of some kind should be put in Afghanistan, but he says there are no plans at present for a traditional "blue helmet" U.N. force to enter the country. "What we are talking about - and I think this is what I think President Musharraf is referring to - is the need for some kind of coalition of the willing - of an international security force that would be available to maintain order, to help maintain the new provisional or interim council work inside Kabul, and also help the U.N. carry out its functions there," Mr. Vendrell said.
Britain says it has at least 2,000 troops on standby if such a force is needed in the near future.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials say they have begun sending back foreign staff into Afghanistan to run humanitarian assistance programs. All U.N. expatriate staff were pulled from the country following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.