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Step Towards Afghan Democracy
Afghanistan has taken a major step towards recovery and democracy. After meeting for nine days in Germany, military and religious leaders came to an agreement on a new government for their country.
The previous government, the Taliban, was ousted from power by the Northern Alliance, with United States assistance.
The four Afghan groups agreed to a new 29 member temporary government, an international peacekeeping force, and a plan for building a legal system.
The groups signed the agreement Wednesday morning amid hugs and cheers.
New ministers and security
The new government will rule the country for six months. At which time a national assembly of tribal Afghan leaders will gather to establish a more permanent government.
Germany agreement establishes 29 cabinet level positions, including
a chairman, five vice-chairs and 23 ministers.
Anti-Taliban fighter Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun leader, will serve as chairman of the government. Karzai is currently fighting the Taliban in Kandahar, the Taliban's last stronghold in the country.
Two women were selected to serve in the Cabinet and the Afghan groups developed a plan for establishing general elections and a supreme court.
The new government is expected to take power on Dec. 22.
Easing the power transition
Beyond a new government the Afghan people will soon have an international security force to keep the peace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and other cities.
The U.S. will not be a part of the peacekeeping force, but U.S. soldiers will continue the search for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida members in Afghanistan.
The transition is sure to run into sticky spots. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the current leader of Afghanistan and Northern Alliance head, is currently living in the presidential palace, but he has no position in the new government.
The Northern Alliance is also not happy with the provision calling for disarmament of military forces.
Forces in Kabul, including Mr. Rabbani, argue disarmament could allow the West and United Nations to take over Afghanistan.
The agreement also forbids the new government from granting amnesty to anyone who has committed war crimes in the war so far.
Governments of the past
Afghanistan's past is filled with many battles for control of the government. Since 328 B.C., people in the region have fought each other and foreign invaders for the right to rule.
For several centuries, a series of kings ruled Afghanistan - most until they were assassinated, deposed, or forced from power.
In 1933, the 19-year-old Mohammad Zahir Shah took the throne and briefly changed the way Afghanistan managed its affairs.
King Shah introduced several democratic reforms in 1964, including a constitution, and an elected legislature.
Former Prime Minister Sardar Daoud reversed those reforms after he seized control of the government in a 1973 military coup. Zahir Shah fled the country and went to Italy, where he remains today.
By 1978, the communist party in Afghanistan staged another coup, murdering Daoud and his family. The Soviet Union acted quickly to take advantage of the unstable country and invaded with as many as 120,000 troops.
Although they took the Kabul, the Soviets never gained control over warlords in the rest of the country, who continued to fight the communists' advances. The Soviet Union eventually pulled out after years of fighting in 1989.
When the Soviet government fell, there was no clear leader to take control. Fighting broke out between various ethnic factions within Afghanistan.
A movement of former anti-Communist fighters called "Taliban" began their rise to power, with a pledge to remove the warlords, provide order and strictly enforce the rules Islam. (The name "talib" itself means pupil.)
A 1997 Taliban order installed Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, as the head of state - giving him ultimate authority over Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban's hard-line rule, women were barred from leaving their homes without a male relative, not allowed to go to school and couldn't show their face in public. They could not work or hold conversations with men.
The Taliban also destroyed two large statues of the Buddha during a drive to remove all evidence of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past.
Since the mid-1990s the Taliban has allowed Osama bin Laden, a former Saudi Arabian citizen who fought with them against the Soviets, to live in Afghanistan - providing a base for his terrorist organization, al-Qaida.
The U.S. accuses bin Laden and al-Qaida of planning and executing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, among other crimes.
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