KABUL, Afghanistan – Leaders of the Northern Alliance, which controls the Afghan capital and more than half the country, accepted a U.N. invitation to attend power-sharing talks in Germany with other factions, likely to be held on Monday.
The alliance's formal acceptance of a U.N. invitation to the talks was announced Tuesday by the alliance's acting foreign minister, Abdullah, at a joint news conference in Kabul with a U.N. envoy present.
Abdullah said the alliance would send a delegation to take part in the talks aimed at establishing a new broad-based multiethnic government to replace the Taliban, whose control of the country collapsed this month after relentless U.S. bombing and attacks by Northern Alliance ground forces.
With Abdullah was the deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, who had been in Kabul trying to persuade Afghan groups to attend the session.
Alliance officials had been saying for days they were ready to attend but had held off formal acceptance of the invitation until Tuesday.
The head of the Northern Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, had demanded the conference be held in Kabul, while the United Nations wanted it on neutral ground.
Rabbani backed off the Kabul demand but suggested in comments Tuesday that it could return as an issue, saying substantive decisions on the future of Afghanistan could only be taken at meetings held in this country.
"We can have the first gathering in a foreign country, in Europe, but this gathering will be mostly symbolic, that's all," he said.
U.S. envoy James Dobbins met Rabbani and other senior figures in the Northern Alliance Monday north of Kabul. The alliance, he said, was "ready to work within the U.N. framework" that calls for a broad-based government now that the Taliban militia's hold on the country is falling apart.
Afghanistan has been without a central government since the Taliban pulled out of the capital Kabul on Nov. 13, and the power vacuum has raised fears the country could again descend into anarchic factional fighting.
The Taliban, who still control parts of southern Afghanistan, are not expected to be included in the U.N.-sponsored conference on a new government.
However, there's a widespread belief that the talks have little chance of succeeding if the Pashtuns, who account for more than half the country's population, do not take part. Most Taliban leaders and supporters are Pashtuns.
The Northern Alliance, which immediately moved into the capital when the Taliban pulled out, holds the strongest cards in any negotiations.
Rabbani, who has never given up his claim to be head of government, leads the largest faction in the northern alliance and has already returned to the capital. Thousands of alliance troops and policemen are providing security in the streets, and the alliance has taken over important ministries.
However, the movement is a loose collection of ethnic minorities, and if it excludes other parties from a role in the government, it is likely to face resistance from the numerous armed factions.