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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

A new government for Afghanistan 24/10/01

This could just possibly be the day on which the next government of Afghanistan was born, and the Pakistani authorities were taking no chances. Arriving at a public hall on the border town of Peshawar, a remarkable gathering of Afghanis - former Mujahideen commanders, tribal elders and religious leaders here to jostle for power and plan a post-Taleban Afghanistan. It was the first large anti-Taleban gathering that Pakistan has allowed. The north-west frontier police deployed armoured vehicles outside. For this is a Taleban town. Many from here and the surrounding tribal areas have gone to fight against the Americans. There are Osama Bin Laden T-shirts on sale in the streets. And it's fashionable to show a Bin Laden symbol on your mobile. Yet, it was here that Per Sayed Ahmed Gailani launched his political offensive against the Taleban, at an event that was both a historic tribal gathering and a somewhat chaotic media circus. Gailani is a former Mujahideen commander who helped drive out the Russians, the leader of a Sufi Islamic sect and an ardent royalist, supporting the former king, Zahir Shah. Here he set out the plans he presented to the former king in Rome, that there should be a broad-base council headed by the king to act as interim government, once Islamic troops from a UN force had secured a suitable town in Afghanistan where it could meet. He himself would presumably expect a senior post, perhaps prime minister. It was an often emotional meeting. This religious leader attacked the US for what he called the death of innocent people, but he ripped into the Taleban for the devastation they caused. Not that all those present have a spotless history. Many of the commanders among those here fought bravely against the Russians, but then allowed Afghanistan to descend into chaos as they fought each other for power, so allowing the Taleban to move in with popular support. Now, as many Afghanis and the outside world look for a replacement to the Taleban, this disparate group offers a possible solution, though with so many factions, the problems are immense. Some here were refugees, others had trekked across the mountains from Afghanistan. There was no official representative of the Northern Alliance, but at least one member was present in a personal capacity. There were no defectors from the Taleban, but over 40 different Afghani groups were said to be represented.

Does this represent the possible makings of a new government, then?

(Peshawar Editor, "The News"):
I think all those people who want to replace the Taleban - they are pre-positioning themselves, and they are making a claim for inclusion in the new set-up. They all believe that the Taleban will collapse.

If or when the Taleban fall, there will clearly be the need for a new government, ready to step in, and acceptable to both Afghanis and the US and its allies. But one delegate based in the States was concerned about the role that America is playing.

(Assembly for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan):
I hope this military campaign will not go on for too long. What concerns me is that the US do not have a political plan after the collapse of the Taleban and that will create problems.

Many Afghanis we've been talking to say that the bombing campaign has strengthened support for the Taleban.

I think it is true. It has more sympathy. The people who are affected - what do we expect? Their immediate life is affected negatively by this situation.

Rahimula Yusufzai knows the Taleban well, and was the last journalist to interview Bin Laden. He agrees that the bombing has strengthened the previously shaky support for the Taleban and argues that the US is now targeting the Taleban rather than Bin Laden.

I think it's a reactive US policy. It was not as planned, I think. They were hoping for quick results, and having failed to achieve that, now they are trying new strategies.

This meeting today, will it be a major boost to the US political cause or merely a side show for the moment?

I still don't see any co-ordination among all these opposition figures. The royalists are holding their own meetings and even among the royalists, there are different contenders for power.

Tonight, Per Gailani was holding court, receiving yet more delegates from Afghanistan. He's the latest contender in the increasingly complex machinations for the future control of Afghanistan, in which all the interested foreign powers will also want their say - with Russia and India favouring the Northern Alliance, which Pakistan detests, and the US apparently supporting anyone who can achieve the impossible and bring all sides together. Gailani claims he can do it.

(Leader, Assembly for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan):
I hope in the future the Taleban will rejoin us.

Are you in contact with any people in the Taleban?

We are.

Can you say who they are at this stage?

I cannot say, no.

But you are in contact and they might join you in the future?

I hope so.

Have you been promised, or would you expect any help from the US in the future or from any other outside government?

We need help for the new government which we will make. And if we have change, we need help from the US or other friends to help us to make a strong government in Afghanistan and to help our people there.

Have the US or any other governments been supportive of this movement, have they promised you help in any way?

They are supporting us politically.

In Peshawar tomorrow Gailani's assembly for peace and unity will continue, but for the moment there is still no broad-based government in waiting here, and the Taleban are still in power over the border.

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