The Northern Alliance, saying "there is security in place," rejected on Wednesday the United Nations' proposal for a security force for Afghanistan after the Taliban.
The issue of security is one of two items to be decided at U.N.-sponsored talks among four Afghan factions meeting outside Bonn that will decide the war-torn country's political future. The other issue is an interim administration.
"We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place," Northern Alliance delegation leader Younus Qanooni told reporters — referring to the alliance's own forces.
However, Qanooni said, if a more extensive security force is needed, it should be comprised of ethnic groups within Afghanistan. The United Nations had suggested the use of a broader, possibly international force, but said it would consider one made up of solely Afghans.
Qanooni also dampened expectations building at the talks that the exiled 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, referring to a traditional national council. "If the people agree through a loya jirga that the king has a role, of course, no one can deny that."
Delegates from other factions at the conference indicated earlier Wednesday that consensus was growing around the ex-king as head of a transitional administration.
The issue of the transitional administration appeared to get off to a positive start Tuesday. The administration would run Afghanistan until a loya jirga can convene, possibly as early as March.
Fatima Gailani, an adviser to one of the four groups negotiating at the talks, said Wednesday that the delegates appeared to nearing agreement that former King Mohammad Zaher Shah, 87, would run that administration. Zaher Shah has been living in exile in Rome since being overthrown in 1973.
"The majority, everyone agrees that whatever procedure, he will be the head of it. How much power he will have, we have to discuss this," said Gailani, who is advising the delegation of exiles based in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Deputy U.N. mediator envoy Francesc Vendrell said discussions about the king's role had been so far informal between the factions, and that while there are indications that most of the delegates in the four groups would like to see a role for the king, there was no decision yet.
"The former king of Afghanistan enjoys widespread, I would say, almost unanimous respect among the Afghans,'' Vendrell said. ``That does not necessarily mean that everyone who is a powerholder in Afghanistan agrees to this role.''
U.S. envoy James Dobbins indicated on Tuesday that the four factions at the table accept Zaher Shah as a unifying figure.
No faction favors a return of the monarchy, and Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani strongly opposes the king as head of state. Still, Dobbins said the northern alliance has indicated it would accept a symbolic role for the former king.
The Cyprus delegation supports the ex-king as the head of the interim authority, delegate Abdul Qadir Amiryar said Wednesday.
The four delegations were to meet Wednesday afternoon in a working session with the chief U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, following a meeting earlier in the day between the two largest factions, the northern alliance and that of the exiled former Afghan king, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
Secluded in a luxury hotel near Bonn, Germany, the groups are under strong international pressure, not only from the United Nations but also from the United States and Afghanistan's neighbors, who have observers at the talks, to come up with a formula for an interim administration to replace Taliban rule and a security force.
Vendrell indicated a measure of impatience with the pace of talks so far. Despite plans, the four groups have not yet met together since agreeing to the agenda on Tuesday.
``We have to decide whether we should not help them move along and overcome obstacles,'' he said, adding that the U.N. will probably ``encourage them, prod them.''
After heralding a unifying tone at the opening sessions, the United Nations toned down expectations on the talks' second day.
``These talks are not going to be easy. One grain of sand can stop the machine,'' Fawzi said.
Despite the conflict over the security force, Qanooni called the meetings ``positive'' and said he expected them to be wrapped up in two or three days.
Western nations hope to use the promise of billions 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 the 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.