KOENIGSWINTER, Germany – Afghan factions meeting to work out a post-Taliban government moved Thursday toward agreement on a interim administration to run the country, and the Northern Alliance agreed to allow an international security force to secure peace there.
Younus Qanooni, the leader of the alliance delegation at the talks, said the group will not oppose an international force during an interim government, dropping its earlier rejection of the idea.
Once a transitional administration is established, Qanooni said, and the need for an international force "is inevitable," the alliance doesn't oppose it. The alliance feels such a force is not needed at present, he said, because Northern Alliance forces were safeguarding the peace.
The United Nations said earlier Thursday that the four Afghan factions at the U.N.-sponsored talks were moving toward a formula for a temporary, power-sharing body that would run the country until a traditional, national council can be convened to make longer-term decisions.
The Northern Alliance, whose fighters now hold power on the ground in Afghanistan, went further, saying it had agreed with the former Afghan king's delegation -- the other main faction at the talks -- on a formula for an interim executive council.
The Northern Alliance said it had agreed with the ex-king's side that the executive council would have 42 members, with 21 members each from the Northern Alliance and delegation of former King Mohammad Zaher Shah.
"This is an important breakthrough because had it not come through these talks would have bogged down, but now they have a focus," said Mohammad Hussin Bakhshi, an aide to northern alliance delegate Mohammad Natiqi.
But U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi cautioned that a deal had yet to be sealed, partly because the two smaller exile groups also at the table have other proposals. They are all meeting at a luxury hotel near Bonn, Germany.
"Over the last 24 hours there has been a fine-tuning of the positions but we are still not there," Fawzi said. "There is some very hard work going on. There is a determination to achieve something in Bonn."
A possible interim administration under discussion would have two parts: one part with executive powers and a larger assembly with a parliamentary-like role. Fawzi said the executive branch would have 15 to 25 members; the larger assembly up to 200.
Delegates were "making headway" in drafting lists of proposed delegates to the two bodies, Fawzi said.
"There is almost agreement on the size of each group," he said. "But we're not there yet."
The provisional government is envisaged as giving Afghanistan an initial measure of stability and setting the stage for a traditional council of tribal elders to meet in March. U.N. mediators are pressing for a deal by Saturday.
However, the precise numbers remained in flux.
Qanooni's comments bring the Northern Alliance closer to the positions of the other three delegations, which favor a neutral foreign force. Qanooni said Afghans would prefer a foreign force drawn from Islamic countries.
The Northern Alliance's Bakhshi said some provision may be made for representation from the two smaller delegations at the talks, exiles based in Peshawar, Pakistan, and in Cyprus.
The delegations will work on lists of names during further talks Thursday.
The two larger groups were disagreement, however, on whether the representation would be decided based on the population of Afghanistan's 28 provinces or if it would be based on the nation's ethnic makeup, he said.
Fatima Gailani, a member of a Peshawar delegation, also spoke of progress at the talks. She said all four sides had agreed to form the interim council and would draw up a list of members Thursday.
Diplomats say all sides broadly agree that the popular ex-king, exiled in Rome since his 1973 overthrow, should have a symbolic lead role in overseeing an initial interim administration.
But Fawzi said the sides had yet to agree on that point too.
The four delegations were to meet with U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in a working session Thursday afternoon.
The conference at a secluded hilltop hotel near Bonn, now in its third day, is meant to guide Afghans toward first steps toward a new multiethnic government that would bring stability and peace to the war-battered country.
"If we had not turned out backs on Afghanistan 10 years ago, we would not be sitting here today," Fawzi said Thursday.
"The Afghan problem has never had so much attention and will never again have such great attention," he said. "If we don't seize this opportunity it will be a very grave mistake."