Delegates representing four Afghan groups are meeting for a fourth day near Bonn, Germany to select members of an interim parliament and administration that would govern Afghanistan for the next three to six months. The delegates are also likely to discuss the crucial issue of a peacekeeping force, which the conference's United Nations sponsors say is necessary to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into anarchy.
U.N. officials say the mood at the talks is upbeat and that the delegations are nearing their goal of naming members for the two interim bodies. But that positive mood suffered a setback when a leading member of the Northern Alliance delegation walked out of the conference.
Haji Abdul Qadir, the governor of the eastern province of Nangahar and one of the few ethnic Pashtuns in the Northern Alliance leadership, had a dispute with other members of his delegation and returned to Afghanistan. It is unclear what motivated his decision to leave.
The Northern Alliance is dominated by an ethnic Tajik faction but also includes ethnic Uzbeks and other minorities. But many ethnic Pashtuns suspect it of wanting to dominate a post-Taleban Afghanistan.
This concern not only manifests itself in ethnic Pashtun demands for equal representation in the two interim bodies but, equally important, in fears of a repeat of the brutal fighting that marked the Northern Alliance's last spell in power during the early 1990s.
The other three groups represented at the talks insist that they need some kind of a multinational military force to protect them from the Northern Alliance, which now controls Kabul and much of the rest of Afghanistan. The Alliance, which says it can maintain security, has opposed such a force on Afghan soil but now says it could accept such a deployment if it is part of a comprehensive peace package.
U.N. officials say they are not pushing the Afghans to accept a multinational force. But U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi emphasizes that some kind of security presence is necessary to protect the interim government as well as foreign diplomats and aid workers. "Security is of paramount importance. You can't have an administration functioning in an environment of chaos and anarchy where there are guns all over the place. We need security, especially in the capital, Kabul, if only to start with," Mr. Fawzi said.
Although it is showing signs of flexibility on this issue, the Northern Alliance still says an international force should not enter the country until after the interim government that the delegations are now trying to set up is replaced by a transitional government. That should happen some time next year.