Afghan factions sign pact to create post-Taliban administration

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany (AP) _ Amid applause and embraces, Afghan leaders signed a pact Wednesday creating a temporary administration for their war-ravaged nation. It will be headed by an ethnic Pashtun who battled the Taliban and include two women.

The choosing of a post-Taliban government to lead Afghanistan for the next six months was the result of nine days of furious negotiating and enormous international pressure on the four Afghan factions meeting at a secluded luxury hotel near Bonn.

Under the pact, anti-Taliban commander Hamid Karzai and his Cabinet will take over power in Afghanistan from the triumphant northern alliance on Dec. 22. The deal also requests the United Nations to authorize an international force to keep security in the capital, Kabul, and eventually other areas.

Reaching the agreement also secures billions in aid to reconstruct the country. The European Union quickly promised Wednesday a ``significant contribution'' to helping Afghanistan rebuild.

German leaders and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who shepherded the parties and won the deal, broke into applause at the signing ceremony Wednesday morning. Brahimi then embraced the delegates.

``Nowhere is the feeling of hope greater than among the people of Afghanistan, who during 23 years of tragedy and loss have maintained the hope that peace and stability could be restored one day in their country,'' he told the conference's closing session.

Afghan delegates were jubilant after completing the deal, which is aimed at ending more than two decades of war and civil strife since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

``Maybe it's not perfect,'' said Mostapha Zaher, grandson of the ex-king, whose supporters were one of the four factions. ``Under the circumstances it is something honorable, something good. I think the future of Afghanistan looks very bright.''

The Taliban, battling to keep their last stronghold in Afghanistan, denounced the interim administration as ``puppets of America.'' ``Any government imposed on Afghans from abroad can't be accepted,'' Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, said.

The agreement was reached by the northern alliance, representatives of former King Mohammad Zaher Shah and two smaller groups representing Afghan exiles in Cyprus and Peshawar, Pakistan.

Brahimi said he would go to Afghanistan early next week to begin preparations for the transfer of power from Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the northern alliance. ``The real work starts now,'' he said. Rabbani, whose forces control the capital and who has never given up his claim to his old post as president of Afghanistan, came under intense diplomatic pressure to compromise in the Bonn talks.

Forces of the northern alliance last month swept over more than half of Afghanistan, including Kabul, after U.S. bombing broke the defenses of the hardline Islamic Taliban militia, which had ruled most of the country since 1996.

U.N. mediators went into the Bonn conference looking to get the alliance to share power, particularly with the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. The alliance is made up mainly of ethnic minorities, particularly Tajiks and Uzbeks.

After intense haggling over posts, the northern alliance controls more than half of the 30 ministries, including the powerful defense, foreign and interior portfolios. The delegation of Rome-based exiles loyal to the former king received at least eight ministries, including the finance, education and reconstruction posts.

Keeping in mind the goal of an ethnic and political balance, Brahimi worked to winnow down more than 150 candidates for the 30 posts.

Two women were named to the Cabinet: Sima Samar as a deputy premier and minister of women's affairs and Suhaila Seddiqi as health minister.

The final Cabinet list was not released, as 10 or 11 candidates had not yet been contacted to formally accept the posts, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. The replies were expected later Wednesday.

The administration will govern for six months until the former king convenes a traditional tribal council, or loya jirga. The council will then ratify a transitional government, paving the way for elections within two years.

Under the agreement, the four factions also ask the U.N. Security Council to mandate an international security force while a multi-party Afghan force is created. The international force would deploy first in Kabul, then expand to other areas ``as needed.'' The agreement does not define the size of the force or its timing, other than calling for an ``early deployment.''

Younus Qanooni, the northern alliance's chief delegate, said the accord signaled his side's readiness to compromise. ``Today the Afghans have proven that, just as they were ready to die for their country, today they are ready to sacrifice and hand over power peacefully.''

Karzai is a 44-year-old Pashtun tribesmen from the Taliban heartland of Kandahar who speaks fluent English, studied abroad and is currently leading a force of some 4,000 troops fighting the remaining Taliban forces around Kandahar.

He initially supported the creation of the Taliban in 1994 as an alternative to the lawlessness of militia leader ruling at the time. But he became disillusioned, saying the Taliban had been hijacked by neighboring Pakistan.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Karzai was in Pakistan. But when Islamic insurgents took power from the pro-Moscow regime in 1992, Karzai became Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Karzai later left Rabbani's government, disillusioned by the bickering between the groups.