Meeting Offers Hope for New Afghanistan

Four groups of Afghan opposition leaders will meet under the watchful eye of the United Nations on Tuesday in an attempt to patch together a transitional government for their war-ravaged country.

The 32 men and women will sit around a table at a secluded and well-guarded government guest house about 12 miles from the former West German capital. The Northern Alliance, which now controls an overwhelming majority of Afghan territory, will have 11 delegates at the table. So will the so-called Rome group, which represents the interests of deposed king Zahir Shah, who has lived in Italy since 1973.

An association of exiles known as the Cyprus group, and another called the Peshawar group, will each have five delegates at the conference.

The goal of the meeting is to arrive at a consensus for a transitional administration for Afghanistan, according to Hamad Fawzi, spokesman for U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi. "This isn’t a final blueprint," he said. "This is a roadmap for the building of the infrastructure and the institutions by which the Afghans can govern themselves."

Fawzi stressed that although the Bonn meeting is being held under the auspices of the United Nations, the world organization will not be calling the shots. "We are not forming a government for the people of Afghanistan," he said. "They are forming the government for the people."

Fawzi called the meeting a "golden opportunity" for Afghanistan, after nearly 23 years of war, to capitalize on the international attention focused on the nation since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. The international community has promised a huge aid package as well as political support, both of which are considered vital to the rebuilding of the country.

"Without peace there will be no development, and without peace there will be no investment," said Fawzi.

While a final agenda for the meeting has not been set, security was also expected to be a major issue in discussions. The Northern Alliance has been reluctant to accept the presence of multi-national forces in Afghanistan once the war is over.

Mostapha Zahir Shah, the king's grandson and a delegate in the Rome group, said it will be difficult to reach consensus on any of the issues. However, he said he was coming to Bonn with an open mind and an open heart.

"After 23 years of war, you can’t solve everything in a week, but I’m quite hopeful overall," he said. "Just getting all these people to sit down together is already quite an achievement."

The meeting comes after weeks of intensive international efforts led by the United States to bring together the various parties for a discussion about Afghanistan's future. The meeting had originally been scheduled for Monday, but was delayed a day to allow more time for participants to prepare.