Powell says northern alliance has agreed to talks on setting up new government in Afghanistan

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The victorious northern alliance has agreed to participate in U.N.-brokered talks about forming a new power-sharing government in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

``The purpose of the meeting would be to bring together a number of leaders representing different parts of Afghanistan, different ethnicities, different tribes, and see if we can get an interim government in place and then stand up a broader government over time,'' Powell said.

A string of successes over the past week has enabled alliance forces that once controlled a small part of northern Afghanistan to command third-thirds of the country, including the capital, Kabul.

The United States has pressured the northern alliance to share power with other factions _ including Pashtuns in the south _ and to let the United Nations oversee assembly of a new government.

Powell hoped the meeting organized by the top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, would take place in days but did not say where it would be held. ``We've got to get this moving,'' he said on ``Fox News Sunday.''

``The holdup had been the northern alliance,'' Powell said, ``and with this announcement today, we should be able to move forward quickly.'' The breakthrough came as a result of meetings in the region between northern alliance leaders and James Dobbins, the Bush administration's special envoy for Central Asia.

Brahimi has outlined plans for a two-year transitional government backed by a multinational security force.

Powell hopes the meeting can lead to the beginning of administrative control of Kabul in advance of a ``more comprehensive, broad-based government.''

That, in turn, ``may well require some military presence on the ground'' to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies or provide ``a level of stability in the towns that are being liberated,'' he said on ABC's ``This Week.''

Powell also played down the direct role of Afghanistan's exiled king, 86-year-old Mohammad Zahir Shah, in ruling the country.

``It seems to me that his role would continue to be symbolic as opposed to being the executive or the chief executive of the new government,'' Powell said.

The secretary said he believed suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden still was in Afghanistan, though on the run from U.S. airstrikes. ``I have seen no intelligence or information to suggest'' he has left, Powell said.

``It's getting harder for him to hide, as more and more territory is removed from Taliban control,'' Powell said. ``I don't think there's any country in the region that would be anxious to give him guest privileges if he showed up.''

On the military front, U.S. B-52s bombed Taliban positions in the hills outside the city of Konduz, the last Taliban foothold in the north. The Taliban also held positions in their home base of Kandahar in the south.

``This war is not over. It'll continue for a while, until the Taliban power is totally cracked and other tribes in the south start to reassert control,'' Powell said.

The military campaign will continue until the United States accomplishes its goal of getting bin Laden and destroying his al-Qaida terrorist network, Powell said.

Once that is done, the United States will go after the network in all of the 50 countries it's located in around the world, Powell said.

``So let's not see this as all suddenly coming to an end. A long-term campaign against terrorism will take years, and we'll stick with it,'' Powell said.