KWAME HOLMAN: Even as Washington acknowledges it may take a while to topple the Taliban, various Afghan leaders already are designing a post-Taliban government for the historically fractious land. In Peshawar, Pakistan, today, more than 1,000 tribal leaders concluded a rare two-day gathering.
During the 1980s, these Afghan holy warriors, or Mujahideen, often put aside their rivalries to fight Soviet invaders together. Today, many spoke out against the U.S. bombing, and nearly all signed a declaration supporting an Afghan government with a central role for its former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. Deposed in 1973, the king lives in exile in Italy. Many members of the anti-terrorism coalition also support a role for the monarch. Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before a House committee.
The king will play an especially important role. Not that I would expect him to become the chief executive of the next regime, but he brings a certain authority to the process, and he will be able to rally all of the elements together.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the deposed king was conspicuously absent from the Peshawar meeting, which he did not formally endorse. He supports a separate gathering of Afghan groups scheduled soon in Turkey. Also missing were disaffected Taliban leaders who are strongly endorsed by Pakistan, and representatives of the Northern Alliance, an ethnically diverse group of warlords currently fighting the Taliban. During the early '90s the alliance controlled Kabul, but lost power to the Taliban in the Afghan civil war.
However, the alliance still is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate Afghan government. The Northern Alliance's political leader is Borhanoddin Rabani. Strongly supported by Russia, he's one of many rivals to the former king.
BORHANNODIN RABBANI: The future leader of Afghanistan is not Mohammed Zahir Shah. It should be the council, and the council will decide about the future of Afghanistan.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rabani's Northern Alliance includes ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. There are reports of internal friction among them over a future Afghan government. A key issue is what role will be played by the Pashtuns in the South, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. Ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan are sworn enemies of the Northern Alliance, and are pushing for a voice for Taliban defectors. But any Taliban representation in a new Afghan government is likely to offend Iran, whose Shi'a form of Islam clashes with the predominantly Sunni Taliban. And being negotiated now by the U.S.-led coalition: A future role for the United Nations.
COLIN POWELL: And my own personal view-- and I present it as a personal view-- is that there will probably be a requirement for some kind of U.N. presence, significant presence, in Kabul in a governmental/administrative capacity to help the new government get started.
KWAME HOLMAN: Powell and others specifically have suggested U.N. peacekeepers in a post-Taliban Afghanistan to stabilize a place sometimes called the Balkans of Central Asia.
JIM LEHRER: The United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. He's an Algerian diplomat who was appointed three weeks ago by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Robert MacNeil talked to him this afternoon at the U.N. in New York.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Secretary Powell told the Congress that he hoped to assemble an interim government for Afghanistan in the very near future. Are you as hopeful as that, "the very near future?"
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: That would be great. I'm on my way to the region to talk to Afghans and also to their neighbors, who play a very important role in what happened in Afghanistan. I think that it will take some time, but I know that there is a sense of urgency that people realize much more than they did before -- that there is an opportunity and an urgency to move fast, so how fast we can get the Afghans to form government I'm not quite sure at this stage.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Secretary Powell made it sound like a U.S. operation with U.N. help. Who is in charge? Are you; is the U.S.?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I hope the Afghans are going to be in charge and that we are all helping them. I was in Washington two days ago and we had a very, very fruitful discussion. There is no disagreement between us and the United States. What the United States can do as the biggest power on Earth is something.
What the U.N. can do is something else; we have different roles. We desperately need the United States to be engaged and I'm on record for criticizing the United States for not being engaged in the past so their engagement is most welcome. I think that we have a role to play, that is the United Nations, on behalf of the national community and of course that includes the United States.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: I'm just wondering - can this work -- this attempt to encourage the Afghans to form a government -- can it work if there is more than one cook stirring the broth?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Yes, there shouldn't be more than one cook to stir the broth.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: And you are the cook?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I am whatever you want me to be. What is terribly important is that all those who are interested, all those who have an interest, all those who have influence should coordinate their activity. What is very bad for these players who go at cross purposes without - you know your left hand doesn't know what your right hand done.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Is that happening at the moment?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Not yet. It has happened elsewhere and the results were not good, and I think when we talked in Washington, the Americans recognized that the U.N. had some comparative advantage in leading the negotiations. Support from the United States is vital. What they tell the players, what they contribute, is vital. There is no problem for the moment.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Let's talk practical steps. With a war going on, what is more likely, to form something like an interim government of Afghanis outside of Afghanistan ready to move in or to form one on Afghan soil?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: There again, I don't know. It depends what is happening on the ground. So many players; there are so many tracks already -- they have to be brought together. It doesn't really matter whether it's inside or outside, as long as you have no loose ends if possible - that you bring in all the Afghans parties that legitimately have a right to be involved. I always insist on the fact that the neighbors and the important players outside of Afghanistan have to be on board so that there are no spoilers at some stage that are going to make the whole arrangement fall down.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: I believe you're going to see the king in Rome in addition to other people.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Ultimately, yes.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Ultimately. Secretary Powell suggested the king would be able to rally different elements? Will he really, because some people are already calling him irrelevant or an American puppet? How important is he?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I think he enjoys respect in many quarters. He has no personal ambition. This is universally recognized. He can definitely be a catalyst. He can rally people. If we are really careful not to spoil that role for him. So definitely, I haven't talked to him for two years because I wasn't involved for those two years. But the U.N. has already been talking to him all the time.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Is the political effort - your effort and others - being coordinated in any way with the military effort?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: My own effort is not coordinated with the military at this stage.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Are you being informed by Britain and the United States? Is there any kind of tacit understanding, for instance, as it's been reported, no capture of Kabul until a political entity is formed?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: We are in close touch with the political side but in America and in England and in other countries, but not specifically about the military situation. There is what should happen in Kabul or not happen is also being talked about, but there is nothing very specific.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: What affect is the bombing and the military campaign having for support of the Taliban as far as you know?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: The Taliban's hold on the country does look shaky. The Northern Alliance are now, they have made some progress, they have taken some land, but I think the Taliban are still there. I think we see the evidence in the fact that the Northern Alliance has not been able to take any of the important cities yet. So, the Taliban has been shaken. The Taliban now, people are starting to talk about them as a something of the past, but they are still there, I think they are still there.
ROBERT MAcNEIL: Secretary Powell talked yesterday about the... You know all the talk about whether they should... moderate Taliban should take part in a future government, and you have talked about including all representatives involved. He sounded rather negative about the Taliban participating. What do you think now?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: See, that again, what... You see, the Taliban is a generic term that doesn't mean the same thing to different people. The Taliban is a leadership, very small group of leaders who created the movement who are extremists, who are very fundamentalist; but a lot of people joined the Taliban along the way in these last six years now.
A lot of people have joined them. And I don't think that you can exclude all these people. I have met some young, you know, what you would call bureaucrats working for the Taliban who are serving what they consider the state. I think... I very much hope that these people will be available to the future of Afghanistan.
ROBERT MAcNEIL: Well, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Thank you.