Afghans Will Seek to Set Up Council

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In what would be the first major step toward establishing a government, Afghan factions meeting in Germany this coming week will attempt to set up a 15-member council as the basis for an interim administration, a German diplomat said Saturday.

Afghanistan has been without a government since the Taliban fled the capital Nov. 13, and the U.N.-sponsored conference that opens Tuesday in Bonn will be an important test of whether the groups can set aside their rivalries and find enough common ground to establish a broad-based government.

The trick will be to include all leading parties and ethnic groups in the diverse country, while not allowing the negotiations to drag on endlessly.

"The perfect success would be that we come out of Bonn with an agreement on an executive council," said Hans-Joachim Daerr, Germany's special envoy to Afghanistan. "The executive council would then carry on the transition."

The details will have to be worked out by the Afghans, but the council is envisioned as a 15-person body that would begin taking over the functions of a government.

However, even if that happens at the Bonn conference, Daerr stress that "it's only the first step, and many more will have to follow."

The United Nations has spoken of setting up an interim administration that would lead the country for about two years and write a new constitution before giving way to a more permanent government.

Daerr will be flying to Germany on Sunday with the delegation of the Northern Alliance, the most influential of the four groups involved in the talks, which are expected to last for about a week.

The Northern Alliance is effectively running Kabul — it has 3,000 troops in the streets and its leaders are working out of key government ministries, including defense, interior and foreign affairs.

However, the international community has insisted that Afghanistan have a multiparty government before it will be granted international recognition and large dollops of aid to rebuild the country, shattered by more than 20 years of war.

The conference takes place while the Afghan conflict carries on in one pocket in the north of the country and several places in the south. The Taliban, who still hold several provinces in the south, have not been invited to the conference and the movement is not expected to have any role in a future government.

"There is absolutely no room for the Taliban," Daerr said, echoing the position of the United Nations and the Afghan groups taking part in the conference.

However, there's also a broad consensus that the Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, will have to be represented if the new government is to have nationwide support. Most Taliban leaders and supporters are Pashtuns.

None of the four groups heading to Germany is specifically a Pashtun delegation, though all will include Pashtun members.

The other three groups taking part in the talks are all based outside Afghanistan. They include representatives of the former king Mohammad Zaher Shah, who lives in Rome; the Pakistan-based Peshawar group, led by former guerrilla chief Pir Gailani; and the Cyprus group, made up of distinguished exiles.

Daerr declined to say how soon an executive council might assume authority, but said: "We all share this sense of urgency."

"There has to be a mechanism for transition, of handing over," he added.