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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Afghans discuss political future
A range of representatives from Afghanistan's factions
Leading figures are discussing life without the Taleban
Hundreds of tribal elders, former mujahideen commanders and other leading Afghan exiles have convened to discuss the future of Afghanistan if the current ruling Taleban regime is ousted.

The meeting was called by a prominent Afghan figure, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani.

He backs the reinstatement of the country's former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who is living in exile in Rome, as acting head of state.

Delegates are discussing the formation of a broad-based multi-ethnic government and the composition of a 120-man interim council to oversee the transition of power and avoid a power vacuum.

But there are no significant members of the opposition Northern Alliance present, nor, despite being invited, any representatives of the former king.

Critical

Opening the meeting, Pir Gailani said Afghanistan was in the most critical phase of its history.

"Efforts should be made to stop the military operation and start work on reconstruction of the country as early as possible," he said.

He added that the former king, Zahir Shah, should lead an interim government.

Former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah
A crucial role is seen for the former king
Pir Gailani, an ethnic Pashtun like Taleban members, said he would welcome the co-operation of those Taleban who also agreed to the ideas of peace and a broad-based government.

"I consider their co-operation signficant and fruitful" he said. Most of those attending the meeting appeared to be Pir Gailani's supporters - an indication of the support he commands and a sign that he is likely to play a signficant role in any future administration.

The BBC's Susannah Price, who is in Peshawar, suggests that while this is a start, there is a long way to go before any administration representing all ethnic groups and political beliefs could be agreed.

Tribal divide

Afghanistan is made up of a patchwork of fractious tribes that throughout the country's history have fought for control.

It is unclear if any trust exists between leaders of the Northern Alliance, who are mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara peoples from the north of the country, and moderate members of the Pashtun tribe who back the Taleban.

Pakistan says some moderate Taleban representation should be included in any future government as Pashtuns make up 40% of the population.

See also:

22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The world's plans for Afghans
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
US targets Taleban front line
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