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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 14:42 GMT
Afghan deal kindles new optimism
Group photograph of participants at Bonn talks
Surveying Afghanistan's future: a vast undertaking
Paul Reynolds

The pessimists have been proved wrong again.

The Afghan factions have agreed on an interim council to take charge for the next six months - not a perfect arrangement maybe, but a huge achievement in less than two weeks of talks.

Suddenly, Afghanistan's future has been transformed, both on the battlefield and in the conference chamber.

Relief convoy enters Afghanistan from Pakistan
Getting relief supplies into Afghanistan will be crucial
More than 20 years of war, against the Russians, against each other and against the Taleban, have given way to hopes of peace.

The new council is a careful balance of interests, tribes and power blocs. Its chairman will be Hamid Karzai, a 46-year-old Pashtun who did not attend the talks.

He is too busy trying to dislodge the Taleban from their last stronghold of Kandahar.

Since the Pashtuns are the dominant, though not the majority tribe, others could accept that a Pashtun should get the top job.

Hamid Karzai was once a minister in the government which the Taliban overthrew and is a longtime royalist sympathiser.

But he was technically a part of the Northern Alliance which has a majority of the 30 posts and so consolidates its influence.

The Alliance also holds three of the other key jobs - foreign affairs, defence and security.

Masood's triumph

The foreign portfolio goes to Abdullah Abdullah, an eye doctor, and a man familiar on television screens as an eloquent spokesman. The interior ministry goes to another younger star, Younis Qanooni, who led the Northern Alliance delegation.

Mohammad Fahim with portrait of Masood in background
Fahim replaced Masood as alliance commander
Defence goes to Mohammad Fahim, less well known, who took over the military command when Ahmad Shah Masood, the Lion of the Panshir who fought the Russians so hard, was assassinated just before the 11 September attacks.

Indeed the way the interim government has turned out is a posthumous triumph for Masood as his men are in such important roles.

And in naming three younger Northern Alliance ledaers to top positions, the conference signalled a break with the past.

Rabbani left out

The man who was president until the Taleban took over, Burhanuddin Rabbani, has had to give up his hopes of becoming leader again.

For once in international diplomacy, the politics are running ahead of the military

He never went to Bonn but was trying to exercise his influence from afar. It failed.

The exiled former king's party won some of the less security related posts.

But one of the smaller exile groups, from Peshawar in Pakistan, is unhappy at the shareout and called it unfair.

Women ministers

Two women are also listed. One of them, Sima Samar, a vice chair from the King's party, is based in Rome.

The other, Suhaila Seddiqi, gets health. She is a surgeon.

The plan is for this interim council to take over on 22 December.

It will last for six months before a tribal council, a loya jirga, is held.

The former king, Zahir Shah, might play some symbolic role in that.

It will appoint another longer-term administration under which a constitution will be drawn up and elections held in two years.

The UN Security Council is expected to mandate an international force to act as peacekeepers, though their exact role has not been specified.

International aid will also begin to flow in. That was a powerful incentive for people to compromise.

Meanwhile, the Taleban have to be finally defeated.

But for once in international diplomacy, the politics are running ahead of the military.

And Afghanistan at last gets a chance to rebuild.

The BBC's Peter Biles, in Bonn
"There are at least two women who have been nominated to positions"
The BBC's Peter Greste, in Kabul
says it seems Mr Rabbani has been left out of the interim government
Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani
"I'm not in love with the position of President, I'm in love with my country"
See also:

04 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan women want their voices heard
30 Nov 01 | South Asia
Leading Pashtun quits Afghan talks
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
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