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Afghan opposition foreign minister rejects 'moderate Taliban' concept

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) _ The foreign minister of Afghanistan's opposition government on Saturday rejected the idea of including some members of the Taliban in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, mindful of neighboring Pakistan's wishes, recently suggested allowing moderate members of the hardline Islamic militia a role in a multifaceted government.

But Abdullah, the foreign minister of the government recognized by Western powers as Afghanistan's legitimate leadership, reaffirmed its opposition to including Taliban.

``There are no moderate Taliban. The term 'moderate' does not apply to the Taliban. The Taliban have as their international agenda cruelty and terrorism,'' said the minister, who uses one name.

He spoke to reporters after meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who also said there was no place for the Taliban in the future of government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban control most of the country and have given shelter to Osama bin Laden, identified by the United States as the mastermind of last month's terror attacks.

Taliban positions have been bombarded by U.S.-led airstrikes for the past two weeks, raising the prospect of the Taliban being routed and concerns about how Afghanistan would be governed thereafter.

Abdullah's government, headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani, is backed by groups of fighters known collectively as the ``northern alliance'' and the ``united front.'' The Rabbani government, which was driven from the capital Kabul in 1996, has been criticized for human rights violations and observers have warned that their return to power could bring more bloodshed to the country.

Abdullah declared that ``the northern alliance was part of the solution and they will be part of the solution. This does not mean that there is any power-brokering with the Taliban.''

Along with religious and ideological differences, the Afghanistan conflict reflects the country's ethnic divisions. The Taliban are primarily Pashtun while the northern alliance consists of five groups centered on various ethnicities; among them is the strongly Pashtun Ittehad-e-Islami.

That range, argued Abdullah, gives the northern alliance legitimacy in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

``The Pashtuns are part of the united front and they will be part of the solution,'' he said. ``The solution should not be based on ethnic division but on cooperation.''

Many in the international community are promoting Afghanistan's former king Mohammed Zaher Shah, who was deposed in 1973, as a possible unifying figure for Afghanistan. The Rabbani government has given mixed signals on how it regards the former king and his possible new role.

Abdullah gave an equivocal assessment: ``The former king will play a role in finding a future for Afghanistan. Any person can, actually any person can, actually, as long as he brings peace to the people and the right of self-determination.''

Tajikistan, which has a 750-mile border with Afghanistan, has attracted growing attention as a strategic key in the conflict, both as a potential military staging point and as the most convenient place to marshal humanitarian efforts for the conflict-wrecked country.

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