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Afghan Talks Expected to be Difficult - 2001-11-25

Representatives of Afghan factions and exile groups will gather in the German city of Bonn this week for talks on the formation of a transitional post-Taleban government. The U.N.-sponsored talks are expected to be difficult.

They are scheduled to begin Tuesday, in the former German capital city's secluded Petersberg Hotel. That's one day later than previously scheduled. Officials said delaying the start for a second time - originally the plan was to bring the various factions together at the weekend - will give the participants time to arrive.

But the United Nations also said the delay would give participants time for preliminary discussions, which diplomats say is a hint as to how difficult the talks are likely to be.

The Afghan delegates to the talks, taking place in what used to be the government guesthouse, are expected to come from a number of different groups.

The former president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who says he is still the internationally recognized leader of the country, will be represented. So will the Northern Alliance, which has taken control of much of the country as the Taleban have retreated. Among the Northern Alliance delegates will be representatives from the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities. Former King Zahir Shah will also send a delegation, reportedly including two women. There will also be representatives of Afghanistan's largest tribal group, the Pashtuns, among several delegations.

But the jockeying for power in post-Taleban Afghanistan has only just begun, both among the Afghan factions themselves and among the rival regional powers that back them.

Pakistan has made it clear it does not want Afghanistan dominated by the Northern Alliance. Russia and Iran, on the other hand, are said to be backing the Northern Alliance.

Even the United Nations deputy representative, Francesc Vendrell, has spoken of the distrust between rival factions. He warned the outside world not to have high expectations that the meeting will immediately agree on the kind of power-sharing plan already put forward in the U.N. Security Council. But reports this weekend suggest the outlook is not entirely bleak. Mr. Rabbani said in a British newspaper interview that he would step down if the meeting names a new head of government. And the Northern Alliance has said it is prepared to be flexible.

The U.N.'s Mr. Vendrell reportedly said that he does not expect an agreement in Bonn, but he does hope for some preliminary understandings which might form the basis of an agreement later.