November 29, 2001
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Rift among Afghan delegates stun diplomats

Diplomats and observers at a United Nations-sponsored meet of Afghan factions are stunned at the depth of differences within the Northern Alliance and among the 28 delegates present, despite optimistic overtures.

Diplomats told SADA news agency on Wednesday that they were "stunned" to learn of the differences within the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance itself.

The 28 delegates from Afghanistan on Tuesday closed the first day of the conference to establish a post-Taleban government on a positive note, recognising the need for reconciliation and a symbolic role for the country's aging former king.

But diplomats point out that even as the Northern Alliance delegates were to begin the session, Burhanuddin Rabbani had told reporters in Dubai that he did not expect any decisions because the participants lacked "authority".

Observers point out that Kabul was taken over from the Taleban two weeks ago mainly by the Tajik faction of the Northern Alliance -- former defence minister Ahmad Shah Masood's loyalists.

Interior Minister Younis Qanooni, who is now organising Kabul's security, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and the army chief, General Mohammed Fahim -- all considered Masood's protégé -- have replaced him.

Another leader, Sayed Husain Anwari of the Shia sect, makes the most moderate and accommodating faction of the United Front, another name for the Northern Alliance.

All four stress that they are committed to a broad-based government. The group of four moderates face several internal challenges within the Northern Alliance.

Moderates, it is reported, don't get along well with the UN-recognised president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

"They (four moderates) tried their best to keep Rabbani from coming to Kabul, because he wanted to declare himself president and destroy their hopes of reaching a compromise with the Pushtoons in establishing a new government," a South Asian diplomat said.

Observers feel if this conference fails to produce immediate results, Rabbani, who has the support of Russia and Iran, can force the moderates to declare him president.

Diplomats say the Northern Alliance is reluctant to be seen as an equal partner with the other groups, which neither hold territory nor have any physical presence inside Afghanistan.

Tensions between the ethnic groups and commanders who represent them make the Northern Alliance both fragile and volatile, a western diplomat said, adding: "Now that the Taleban are history, Northern Alliance has also lost the primary factor uniting them."

Diplomats say that the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and six provinces were captured by three Northern Alliance commanders, who are still at loggerheads over how to run the city.

Commander Ismail Khan who has established unified control over three western provinces "has major differences with the moderates who are representing the Alliance at Bonn," diplomatic sources claim.

Reports say that Khan's forces, which were advancing towards Kandahar, were halted halfway at Dilaram by US special forces and other Northern Alliance leaders to allow Kandahar to fall to the anti-Taleban Pushtoon forces in order to avoid ethnic friction.

Qanooni, who has emerged as the spokesman for the Northern Alliance, has, however, made an effort to comfort the Afghans who worry that the Alliance will try to exclude them from a future government.

"It will be our pride to work for a broad-based government, based on the will of the people of Afghanistan," he said.

Hamid Karzai, a Pushtoon leader who enjoys support of Pakistan, in a phone call that delegates heard over a loudspeaker, said: "We are one nation, one culture. We are united, not divided. We all believe in Islam, but we believe in an Islam of tolerance... This meeting is the path toward salvation."

Indo-Asian News Service

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