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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 16:17 GMT
Q&A: What next for Afghan diplomacy?
As attention focuses on the possible make-up of a new government in Afghanistan, the BBC's Paul Reynolds looks at the race to fill the power vacuum.

Why the urgency?

There is a need for urgency - "speed, speed, speed" as US Secretary of State Colin Powell put it - because nobody wants the Northern Alliance to settle in and take full control. It did so in Kabul in the early 1990s and was eventually driven out by the Taleban.

It is not a broad-based movement, being largely made up of northern tribes and not the country's majority ethnic grouping, the Pashtuns.

But the alliance now has possession of the capital, Kabul. Possession is said to be nine-tenths of the law - in politics, it is often ten-tenths.

What is the plan?

A plan has been put forward by the United Nations Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi.

He wants an immediate conference of Afghan factions, excluding the Taleban, to agree on a "provisional council" which will be chaired by someone who is a "symbol of national unity" - the exiled King Zahir, now living in Italy.

This council would set up a transitional administration to last for no longer than two years. A special tribal meeting called a Loya Jirga would approve its programme.

The administration would draw up a constitution which a second Loya Jirga would approve. A government would then be installed.

What role will the UN play?

The UN is already playing a role through Mr Brahimi, and will want to be closely involved throughout.

But the plan has lagged far behind the military changes and the trick now will be to prevent the Northern Alliance from simply taking over.

The alliance, though, does have a claim, since its leader Burhanuddin Rabbani is still formally recognized as the Afghan president by the UN itself. He was overthrown by the Taleban.

How hard will it be to get the factions to agree?

A problem, to say the least. Afghanistan has rarely enjoyed consensus government.

But the United States has a big stick to wield over the Northern Alliance - its air power. Much also depends on the power of the Taleban collapsing completely.

Who will keep the peace in the meantime?

Britain has already earmarked troops for entry into Kabul. They might even land at Kabul airport, which the Americans are already examining.

American troops might also play a role. It will be said that they are there for humanitarian reasons, to help the flow of food aid, but they will also provide a security presence, even if they do not get involved in any factional fighting.

But of course if Osama Bin Laden was spotted, they would hardly sit tight.

Other nations, especially Muslim ones, will also want to send troops, perhaps with a UN mandate. These might take longer to arrive.

What interests do Afghanistan's neighbours have in all this?

Pakistan is in the most difficult position. It threw its lot in with the Americans, under huge pressure, but has found that its opponent, the Northern Alliance, has ended up in Kabul, ousting the Taleban which Pakistan has previously helped.

This might undermine President Pervez Musharraf's position.

Other neighbours will get their rewards from closer ties with the US - especially Uzbekistan, where American forces are stationed.

Iran benefits by having the Taleban, which has repressed the Shia minority, removed.

Will a 'broad-based government' in Afghanistan work?

There are two definitions of success here. For the Americans, success means getting rid of Bin Laden and his protectors, the Taleban. Whether Afghanistan actually gets a stable government matters less.

To the Afghan people, though, it matters most. Maybe after generations of fighting, there will be calm - but there is still unfinished business with the Taleban.

Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.

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