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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 00:56 GMT
Kabul's new rulers tighten grip
Flag on Foreign Ministry, Kabul
An Alliance soldier hangs a flag on the Foreign Ministry
Leaders of the Northern Alliance have taken over key ministries in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as diplomatic efforts intensified to fill a power vacuum left by the fleeing Taleban

Burhannuddin Rabbani
Deposed President Rabbani set to return
Northern Alliance leaders were reported to have installed themselves in the defence and interior ministries, while police and troops from one faction of the alliance - ousted Afghan President Burhannuddin Rabbani's Jamiat faction - set up road blocks and patrolled the streets.

Alliance officials said their takeover of the ministries was temporary and they still supported a political settlement which would bring together all the country's ethnic groups.

The BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says many people are cynical about these claims.

Anxiety

Diplomats and the UN are anxious that a broad-based interim administration, reflecting all Afghanistan's factions, be put in place quickly.

The UN Security Council has now unanimously endorsed a resolution sponsored by Britain and France, which backs a plan for Afghanistan's political future drawn up by the top UN envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Afghan people look at postcards showing frames of an Indian movie in Kabul
The Northern Alliance have brought new freedoms
Mr Brahimi wants to convene a meeting of all Afghan factions within the next few days to agree on the plan's first stage - a provisional council.

The UN envoy also wants a security force, preferably multi-national, to ensure the stability of the ravaged nation, and the Security Council resolution, while not specifically authorising a peacekeeping force, calls on UN member states to ensure the safety of areas in Afghanistan no longer under Taleban control.

Reports that ousted President Rabbani was expected in Kabul soon - he was originally scheduled to arrive today - have added to the sense of diplomatic urgency.

And the need for progress in working out a political blueprint for Afghanistan has been underlined by the rapid changes on the ground, as opposition forces claim to have reduced Taleban-held territory to less than 20% of the country.

Refugee in northern Afghanistan
Afghans have been glued to their radios to keep up with the power struggle
It had been reported that the meeting of Afghan factions proposed by Mr Brahimi would take place in the United Arab Emirates, but the UN denied it had chosen a location yet.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Mr Brahimi favoured a venue near Afghanistan, possibly in the Middle East, but he said the UN had a "back-up" in Vienna or Geneva.

A number of Muslim countries have been mentioned as possible contributors to the security force. But there may be a pause before troops can be deployed, and British troops have been put on standby in case they are needed to fill it at short notice.

Rabbani's role

Mr Rabbani, deposed by the Taleban in 1996, is still recognised by the UN as Afghanistan's president.

Said Ibragim Khikmat, ambassador for the Afghan government-in-exile in Tajikistan, said: "He (Rabbani) will lead the provinces freed from the Taleban and also head the task of freeing provinces now under the control of the Islamist militia".

Washington's special envoy to the Afghan opposition, James Dobbins, is on his way to Pakistan for talks on the Afghan interim administration, and the Iranian Interior Minister, Abdolhaved Mousavi-Lari, is also in Islamabad.

A senior UN official, Francesc Vendrell, will travel to Kabul as soon as it is safe to do so.

The UN has made it clear that, in addition to assisting the political effort, its priorities lie with the humanitarian needs that have to be addressed as winter closes in.

Further problems could arise from insurgencies by Taleban forces reported to be fleeing into Pakistan.

King's plea

The former Afghan King, Zahir Shah, urged Afghans on Wednesday to unite and choose their own destiny, the Associated Press reported.

The former king made no mention of his own future role. His aides said he intends to return to his nation soon as a symbol of national unity.

The king has been seen by the US-led coalition as a possible head of a post-Taleban government.

Mr Rabbani earlier said that former king was welcome to return, but only as a private citizen.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rageh Omaar reports from Kabul
"The Northern Alliance is effectively governing this country"
The BBC's Adam Brookes
"The fate of the Taleban now hangs in the balance"
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK Ambassador to the UN
"Work is being done to produce a broadly based administration"
See also:

14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani eyes Afghan comeback
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan wants UN force in Kabul
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What next for Afghan diplomacy?
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan: The political challenge
12 Nov 01 | Americas
Powers search for Afghan settlement
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