The U.N.-sponsored talks among four Afghan factions to set up a post-Taleban government have stalled over the fine print in a draft plan for a new interim administration. The delegations have also been unable to agree on who should make up the new cabinet-like body of up to 30 people.
The talks at a mountaintop hotel near Bonn, now in their seventh day, have bogged down again.
After negotiating late into the night, the delegations are still making changes to a U.N. draft proposal that would set up an interim multi-party administration to run the country for the next six months. That means the U.N. may have to redraft the document to include the proposed changes, as long as they are agreed upon by all the parties.
The conference has also been hampered by the inability of the four factions to agree on who should fill the seats in the new administration. Western diplomats monitoring the talks said there was one break in the impasse Sunday, when the Northern Alliance delegation agreed to the designation of a prominent royalist, Abdul Sattar Sirat, as the head of the new temporary government. But two smaller exile groups have yet to approve that nomination.
The haggling now centers on who will get such choice jobs as the defense, interior and foreign ministries.
Another roadblock emerged when the Northern Alliance's nominal head, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying in Kabul that he and his coalition should continue to rule Afghanistan for the next six months.
A member of the delegation representing Afghanistan's former king said he was told by Northern Alliance representatives that the group's leaders in Kabul have not authorized the representatives to make decisions on the composition of the cabinet and insist that all nominees be approved in Kabul.
U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi expressed frustration over the pace of the talks and concern that the Afghan groups will throw away an opportunity to strike a deal at a moment when the international community has promised the war-torn country massive reconstruction aid.
"If we do not seize this opportunity, it will be a very grave mistake. The parties are very close to moving away from the abyss. It has taken them 22 years to climb that cliff, and it can take one little mistake to step back into the abyss or one courageous, momentous move forward to create the momentum to rebuild Afghanistan," he said.
Although the U.N. had wanted to wrap up the talks on Saturday with an agreement on the composition and structure of the new interim government, Western diplomats said the bargaining could go on for several more days. But Friday is beginning to loom as a make-or-break deadline.
On that day, a convention of dentists has booked all the rooms in the hotel where the Afghan conference is taking place.