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Afghan Political Talks Open in Germany - 2001-11-27

U.N. sponsored talks about Afghanistan's political future have opened in Germany. The Afghan groups are under strong international pressure to agree on sharing power in a post-Taleban Afghanistan.

About 30 delegates from four different anti-Taleban groups listened as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reminded them it is their responsibility to reach a consensus on an interim administration for Afghanistan. "I urge you all to forge a truly historic compromise that holds out a better future for your torn country and its people. The international community is prepared to make this great effort," he said.

But Mr. Fischer said that readiness by the international community depends on two major conditions. "First, agreement on binding rules for a peaceful political process and on a broad-based representative transitional government," he said. "Second, respect for and protection of human rights. That includes first and foremost guaranteeing the rights and dignity of women."

The Afghan delegates are meeting behind closed doors under U.N. auspices at a secluded hotel near Bonn. When the Afghans take a break, observers from several countries with a strong interest in the talks are pressing upon them the need to reach an agreement.

U.S. and European Union observers are holding out the promise of massive aid for reconstruction if the Afghans arrive at a consensus on an interim administration representing all of the country's ethnic groups. Western observers say an ethnic Pashtun role in such an arrangement is crucial. The Northern Alliance, the strongest military force, is dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Also to be decided is what role Mohammad Zahir Shah, Afghanistan's former king, will play in the reconciliation process. Although he is an ethnic Pashtun, he is widely seen as a potential unifying figure.

The United Nations also wants the Afghan delegates to agree to the presence of an international military force to guarantee security in Afghanistan. That, it says, will facilitate the distribution of humanitarian and reconstruction aid in the weeks ahead.