KOENIGSWINTER, Germany – Talks on Afghanistan's future reached an impasse Friday after the political head of the Northern Alliance demanded elections for an interim government and objected to plans for international peacekeepers, diplomats said.
The stall in talks came amid a rift between the alliance's leadership in Afghanistan and its delegation at the conference here outside Bonn.
In another sign of alliance divisions, an ethnic Pashtun delegate walked out of the talks outside Bonn to protest the lack of representation for his ethnic group, the largest in Afghanistan.
A senior U.S. official in Washington said on condition of anonymity that the Northern Alliance was not being flexible and that its delegation in Germany was not getting instructions from its leadership in Kabul.
A Western diplomat close to the talks, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks had deadlocked. "We are now in a difficult phase," the diplomat said.
U.S. envoy James F. Dobbins said the three other factions at the conference were waiting for the Northern Alliance to submit a list of proposed representatives for the interim government — something Dobbins said the alliance's envoys here did not have the authority to do.
"It is important this be overcome," Dobbins told reporters. "This will be the most difficult part of the negotiations and it hasn't started yet."
The Northern Alliance is one of four Afghan factions at the conference that the United Nations is trying to pull together to form an interim post-Taliban government. The Northern Alliance itself is a loose collection of ethnic groups and armed militias.
The alliance's political leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, told journalists in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Friday that interim councils should be chosen by elections in Afghanistan rather than appointed at the conference outside Bonn.
The councils could be arranged within two months, he said.
Rabbani complained that "There has been pressure on our delegation" at the talks to make concessions on the two points.
He also underlined his opposition to the international force that the United Nation favors to keep security under the interim government. Any force should be made up solely of Afghans, about 1,000 fighters from each faction in the country, he said.
If the United Nations rejects that option, "then it is possible to have 100 to 200 peacekeeping people from the United Nations. These forces would be responsible to keep the peace as far as they want," Rabbani said.
Rabbani, who was the Afghan president until being ousted in 1996 by the Taliban, heads the largest militia in the alliance and is in control of Kabul.
Since Germany talks began Tuesday, all sides have broadly agreed to form two bodies for an interim government — an executive of 15-25 people and a larger semi-legislative council of up to 200, according to the United Nations.
On Thursday, all four factions, including the Northern Alliance, drew up lists of their proposed representatives to the interim council. The head of the alliance delegation, Younus Qanooni, also said the alliance could accept an international security force.
Now Qanooni said he could not submit the list without consultations with leaders at home, diplomats said.
Anwar Ahadi, a member of a Pakistan-based faction at the talks, said Qanooni "told us today that he is not in a position to agree to any names."
"He said even if we agree to a list here and sign something, what value will it have if it is not accepted by our leaders in Kabul?" he said. "We understand it's not a matter of one or two more days. They seem to be asking for a lot more time."
A spokesman for one alliance delegate, Mohammad Hussin Natiqi, grumbled Friday over the differences with the Kabul leadership.
"They sent representatives who do not have the authority to speak on their behalf," the spokesman, Mohammad Bakhshi, said. "And now, they have discovered that serious business is being decided here."
The United Nations said it expects alliance leaders in Kabul to respect any agreement.
"We have Mr. Rabbani's word that he will respect whatever comes out of the Bonn talks," U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. He said Qanooni had promised to implement any deal reached.
"We can only take their word for it," he said.
The Northern Alliance is mostly made up of ethnic minorities, particularly Tajiks and Uzbeks.
In a sign of ethnic tensions, one of the alliance delegation's three ethnic Pashtun members, Abdul Qadir, refused to attend meetings Thursday and Friday to protest the lack of representation of Pashtuns at the conference.
"If peace and stability are to return to Afghanistan, it can only be through proper representation of the Afghan people," Qadir said by telephone from a friend's house near Hamburg.
Qadir — the governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar — said he appealed to U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to get more Pashtuns into the talks. "But this did not happen," he said, adding he will support any agreement at the talks "if the people of Afghanistan endorse whatever is decided here."
Though the Pashtuns comprise the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, with estimates ranging from 40 to 60 percent of the population, they don't have their own delegation here. Each of the four delegations present includes Pashtun members.
U.N. spokesman Fawzi said he did not "expect any major setback as a result" of Qadir's departure.
Besides the alliance, the Bonn conference brings together delegations from the exiled former king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, and two small exile groups.