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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 23:21 GMT
Analysis: Turning the page of Afghan history
UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi at Bonn talks
Big ideas have been a feature of this conference
The head of the BBC's Persian and Pashto services, Baqer Moin, reports from the Bonn talks

This conference may be a turning point in Afghan history.

Bickering and division amongst the delegates will increase once they start talking about what percentage of power should be accorded to each ethnic and regional group

Twenty-five delegates from all ethnic backgrounds - Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek with different political persuasions - sat around a table to decide a process towards a peaceful Afghanistan.

It was also noticeable in the way that delegates were shaking hands, smiling and embracing each other in the good old Afghan fashion.

Even a token presence of three women were there to represent half the population of this war torn country.

Hopes and fears

The body language was right and the pious hopes in the opening speeches were imbued with optimism and intent in pursuing a new course.

Afghan refugees
The West wants a new Afghan government before it starts releasing aid
Big ideas such as talking about national unity, peace, democracy, representative government and popular will were often heard.

But the devil is still in the details.

The UN intention is to speed up the process in order to create a policy-making body, which in turn would appoint an administration to manage the country.

This would lead, it is hoped, to the formation of a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) to move towards appointing a provisional government for two years.

By then a constitution would be adopted and elections held for a more permanent administration.

What has become the stumbling block between these groups is the transfer of power in Kabul

The UN officials under the chairmanship of Lakhdar Brahimi had invited four groups to draw a plan for the process.

The main group is the Northern Alliance or the United Front, who in the space of a month have come to control most of Afghanistan - thanks to the relentless American bombing, logistics and advice.

They have 11 seats at the table.

The second most important contingent is led by the Rome group, with eight representatives, who have been appointed by the former king of Afghanistan, the 86-year-old Zahir Shah, who was toppled in 1973.

Then there are two smaller groups known as the Cyprus Forum and the Peshawar group, which each had three representatives.

Capital headache

What has become the stumbling block between these groups is the transfer of power in Kabul.

The question is whether this city becomes a neutral city or a city that is policed by multi-national forces or Afghan forces composed of all groups.

Another issue is what role, if any, the former monarch would play and whether Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose government is still recognised by the UN as its member, should be resuming his job as president or move on.

Female delegate Sima Wali
Afghan women enjoy a token presence
Bickering and division among the delegates will increase once they start talking about what percentage of power should be accorded to each ethnic and regional group.

With over 20 countries present as observers, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and also six neighbours of Afghanistan, the stakes are very high.

The western coalition which has been leading the war against extremists in Afghanistan are more anxious than anyone else to ensure that these diverse groups of Afghanistan come up with a united vision for the future of their country to stop it again becoming the centre of terrorism and drug production.

The Peshawar and Rome groups are both keen on speedy deployment of multinational forces, formation of a new government and disbanding of all armed groups into a national army.

By contrast, the Northern Alliance and the Cyprus group are not in a hurry, especially the latter.

Dangling the carrot

The US and its allies hold both the carrot and the stick.

The stick is to deprive any group of any share in future government should they fail to co-operate fully.

The carrot is a fair share of some $10bn that is said to have been earmarked for reconstructing Afghanistan.

The combined application of both and a great deal of diplomacy are required to save this country and help it towards a new era.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | South Asia
US admits first combat death
26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Tribal voices 'left unheard'
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
29 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: Afghan talks progress
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