KOENIGSWINTER, Germany -- The northern alliance rejected the United Nations' proposal for an international security force for Afghanistan, insisting Wednesday that a security force -- theirs -- is already in place.
They also dampened expectations that the former king would head an interim administration.
Deciding on the makeup of a security force, as well as an interim administration, are the two difficult goals of a U.N.-sponsored meeting of four Afghan factions at a mountaintop manor outside Bonn.
''We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place,'' the northern alliance's chief negotiator, Younus Qanooni, said at the second day of the talks.
If a security force is needed to enforce an agreement on an interim government, Qanooni said it should be comprised of Afghanistan's ethnic groups.
The other groups at the conference -- supporters of ex-King Mohammad Zaher Shah, and two other exile groups based in Cyprus and Pakistan -- are pushing for a neutral, U.N.-backed force.
''Peace is not possible without neutral forces, and there are no neutral forces in Afghanistan. There are only northern alliance forces, and they are not neutral,'' said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, a delegate of the Peshawar group that is based in Pakistan.
Zalmai Rassoul, whose group represents the former monarch, said that one option was to include Afghans in a wider security force. He said he hoped for ''compromise.''
The fall of Kabul to northern alliance forces has prompted international calls for the United Nations to oversee a political settlement to the long-running civil war in Afghanistan. A multinational force drawn mainly from moderate Muslim nations has been in planning, drawing troops from Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jordan.
Eight foreign journalists have been killed in Afghanistan over the past several weeks since northern alliance forces began pushing the Taliban out of most of the country.
U.N. officials and aid agencies have also expressed concern over unconfirmed reports that northern alliance forces have massacred hundreds of civilians and captured soldiers in their push against the Taliban.
Qanooni also dampened expectations that the former king would head an interim administration, saying he would have a role only if elected by a national council.
''We don't believe in the role of a person and personalities. We believe in a system, for example, the loya jirga,'' Qanooni said. ''If the people agree through a loya jirga that the king has a role, of course,'' he said.
Delegates from other factions at the conference indicated earlier Wednesday that consensus was growing around the ex-king as head of a transitional administration, which would run Afghanistan until a national council, or loya jirga, can convene, possibly as early as March.
In Washington, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell that the Afghan leaders in Bonn ''have a unique and historic responsibility to do something for their people.''
Annan said that if they form a broad-based transitional administration, the international community will have a partner with which to work.
''I urge them and plead with them for the sake of their people and the country and the region to show the leadership required.''
After heralding a unifying tone at the opening sessions, the United Nations toned down expectations on the talks' second day.
With discussions under way at informal meetings among the delegations and with representatives of observer nations in the corridors of the Petersberg hotel on the two contentious issues, the four delegations have twice postponed a working meeting with U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That meeting is to take place on Thursday, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
''We have to decide whether we should not help them move along and overcome obstacles,'' deputy U.N. envoy Francesc Vendrell said, adding that the United Nations will probably ''encourage them, prod them.''
U.S. envoy James F. Dobbins said it was natural for differences to begin emerging at this stage in the talks.
''They've now gotten past the get-acquainted stage and are grappling with the real issues,'' Dobbins said.
While Brahimi has said an all-Afghan option is most desirable, his spokesman said this week that a multilateral security force might be the most viable, given the speed with which one would be needed to secure the peace for a new administration to take hold.
''The fact that Qanooni came out to say we don't need an international force is fine,'' Fawzi said Wednesday. ''It's their decision. We feel they have to maintain law and order somehow in order to give this interim administration the space to govern until a loya jirga is convened in a few months time.''
Dobbins said the United States had not taken a position on whether an eventual security force should be multinational.
Western nations hope to use the promise of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid as leverage to prod the Afghans toward a historic agreement on a broad-based government, a constitution with full civil rights for women and eventual elections.
Following the transitional administration, tribal leaders convening an initial loya jirga would approve a transitional government to be in place for up to two years, leading to a second loya jirga, which would approve a constitution and set the stage for elections.
Key to any accord is the northern alliance, a coalition of warlords that has gained control of much of Afghanistan since U.S. forces began bombing suspected terrorist targets in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
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