Afghans to Talk Power-Sharing ; Afghan Leaders Will Discuss a Multi-Party Government Monday in Germany, the UN Envoy Announced Yesterday

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Defying more than two decades of "might makes right" rule, the victorious rebel Northern Alliance will now explore a power-sharing deal designed to bring stability to Afghanistan.

After two days of intensive talks aimed at bringing all Afghan ethnic groups to the negotiating table, United Nations envoy Francesc Vendrell announced here yesterday that a UN-sponsored all- party meeting will convene in Germany on Monday.

The diplomatic fire drill is a bid to stave off infighting and shape an enduring post-Taliban government. Last week, the Northern Alliance marched into the Afghan capital, filling the power vacuum created by the swift collapse of the radical Islamic Taliban militia.

This is the first step, Mr. Vendrell says, in bringing rule in Afghanistan back to its traditional, representative roots. The loya jirga, or grand assembly, is to be the model - not rule by the gun.

"The fact that [alliance leaders] are willing to travel abroad in these challenging circumstances is a signal of flexibility," Vendrell said. "It's a signal that we are in a completely different era."

Alliance forces - representing minority Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara groups - seized control of Kabul and much of the country a week ago, after several weeks of American air strikes against Taliban targets. The Taliban - dominated by Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and bolstered by thousands of Arab and Pakistani militants - are now concentrated around just two cities.

UN officials rule out the presence at the conference of the Taliban, a movement that Vendrell says "is on the verge of collapse" and does not represent the Pashtun.

Pashtuns will be represented by delegates of former King Mohammad Zahir Shah - now in his 80s and living in exile in Rome - a man some suggest might play a bridging role, but of whom alliance leaders are suspicious.

Two other Pashtun groups - one of intellectuals, called the Cyprus Process, and another of Pashtun leaders called the Peshawar Assembly for Peace, which called for a loya jirga a month ago - will also take part.

"We are very aware that convening these groups will not mean that every single Afghan will feel totally happy and fully represented, but this is a first step," Vendrell said. "It is a disservice to the Pashtun to say that they are somehow represented by the Taliban.

The meeting in Berlin is expected to produce a provisional national council under the auspices of the former king. The council could then act as a caretaker administration, with the recognition of the international community, and lead further discussions on the makeup of an interim government, which would stay in place until a constitution is drafted and elections are held.

Pleased as Afghans are to shake off the Taliban, skepticism runs deep in Kabul, where factions that today make up the alliance waged a bloody fight in the early 1990s that left tens of thousands dead and turned entire districts of the capital to ruins.

Recognizing the risk of a repeat, the US was at first reluctant to back the Northern Alliance as a proxy force. …


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