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United Nations Special Envoy for Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell has declared that “we must proceed quickly” to establish a provisional government in that war-ravaged nation.
An extraordinary conference is set to begin Monday in Berlin, Germany, which, according to Vendrell, is “… a first step, not a final step …” in erecting an “interim structure” for Afghanistan. As rivalries arise in newly liberated areas of Afghanistan, Vendrell states that the upcoming conference will be “as representative as we can do in the circumstances.”
Vendrell made his remarks during an interview with Deutsche Welle, the official broadcasting service of the German government.
He issued his plea for the rapid establishment of a provisional Afghan government as the competition for power rapidly escalates among victorious anti-Taliban forces. The new rivalries threaten to continue a civil war, which has lasted over two decades and cost some one million Afghan lives.
At present, the strongest military group is the Northern Alliance, also known as the United National and Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance profited greatly from U.S. air bombardment of Taliban positions, which broke a years-long military deadlock between the two opposing factions.
Following several military successes, the Northern Alliance proceeded to capture Kabul, both against U.S. wishes, and in apparent contravention of agreements with other anti-Taliban forces.
After the fall of Kabul, the leader of the Northern Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, assumed power in the capital as president. Rabbani had been president of Afghanistan before his ouster by the Taliban in 1996, and was recognized as the legitimate Afghan leader by the United Nations and several nations – including Russia.
The Northern Alliance had earlier pressed for Kabul as the site for an international conference to establish a provisional Afghan government. Other governments and factions, however, feared that the Northern Alliance would exercise excessive influence on the conference if it met in the Afghan capital.
Several days ago, the Northern Alliance finally agreed to have the conference in Berlin.
In a recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, the foreign minister for the Rabbani regime, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, expressed support for the Berlin conference, but also recalled that the U.N. consistently recognized Rabbani as the legal Afghan head of state.
Abdullah also called upon those whom he referred to as “other personalities” – rival factions in Afghanistan – “to use their influence to obtain representative government” in the nation.
The BBC also spoke with several of the “personalities” currently exercising power in Afghanistan, including the Tajik warlord Ismail Khan.
Khan now controls the city of Herat, and is said to control another three provinces. Khan, who controlled Herat before the Taliban came to power, told the BBC that he favors the Berlin conference as a way to end civil strife in his country.
“For 23 years, there has been war and revolution in Afghanistan, the nation has been destroyed, a generation has grown-up illiterate, and more than one million people have been killed,” he told the BBC.
Khan, however, remains fiercely independent, and wary both of the Rabbani regime and outside interference. “Nobody can impose a regime on us,” Khan declared. “If they do, it won’t last.”
Although the Taliban will not have representation at the Berlin conference, another “personality,” Hamid Karzai, would provide for their possible entry into a future Afghan government.
Like many of those who support the Taliban, Karzai is a Pashtun. He is also the chief of the Popolzai tribe in southern Afghanistan, a former deputy foreign minister in the previous government, and the official representative of the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah.
Karzai stated to the BBC that he would be willing to accept the Taliban back into Afghan politics as long as they give up armed struggle.
While Karzai also supports the Berlin conference, he asserted to his BBC interviewer that it is “up to the Afghan people” to determine who does or does not participate in a future Afghan government, “not one or two people [representing foreign states].”
When the Berlin conference opens, the Rabbani regime will have to defend its claim to legitimacy not only against its rivals (“other personalities”), but also against the excessively independent actions of its own commanders.
In one instance, after the occupation of Mazare-e-Sharif, the conquering Northern Alliance generals proceeded to divide the city among them, with no single authority in complete control, and no indication of direction from Kabul.
Far to the east, in the strategic city of Jalalabad, which is located on the route between Kabul and the Kyber Pass on the Pakistani border, the Northern Alliance general who captured the city, Haji Abdul Qadir, declared himself the city’s governor.
Qadir, who had ruled the area prior to the Taliban regime, reassumed power, not on orders from the Rabbani authorities, but after consultation with other local chiefs.