U.N. special envoy Francesco Vendrell announced today that delegations from Afghanistan’s major groups, including the Northern Alliance and the ethnic Pashtuns, would attend postwar reconstruction talks in Berlin as early as Monday.
The Taliban, which draws most of its support from the Pashtun community, were not invited to participate.
“As for the Taliban, I have said in the past that it seems to all of us that the Taliban as a movement, as a structure, is on the verge of collapse,” Vendrell said.
Following four days of negotiations with the Northern Alliance in Kabul, Vendrell persuaded the main Taliban opposition force to attend talks in Berlin next Monday after they had insisted talks be held in Kabul.
The Northern Alliance seized control of Kabul last week against U.S. and European wishes.
The head of the Northern Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as Afghan president before the Taliban took control, eventually relented to U.N. wishes to hold talks outside the country. Rabbani said the post-war meetings would be “mostly symbolic.”
Washington had sent U.S. special envoy James Dobbins to the region in order to persuade the Northern Alliance to consider a power-sharing arrangement with other Afghan leaders.
Former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah, in exile in Rome, agreed to send a delegation to the U.N. talks in Berlin next week. The U.N. hopes that the former king, a Pashtun, will be influential in unifying the country in a post-Taliban multi-ethnic government.
The U.N. expects the reconstruction talks to continue through December with the immediate goal of establishing a loya jirga, or general council of Afghan elders to serve as a provisional government.
“The first thing we want to do is to set up a very provisional structure. Let’s call it a provisional council. That should be ethnically and politically balanced,” Vendrell told CNN.
U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi explained, “We think that there is a real consensus among all Afghans that what you need is a large council, [but first] a small authority to run the country on a provisional basis.”
Stand-off in Kunduz
In Kunduz, the last Taliban-controlled city in northern Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance issued an ultimatum to Taliban fighters, primarily comprised of Chechens, Pakistanis, and al-Qaida loyalists, to surrender within three days, or face a massive assault from troops surrounding the city.
“If there is a fight in Kunduz, it will be a bloody one because there are 3,000 foreign fighters and they have nowhere to go,” Northern Alliance spokesman Attiq Ullah said.
Ullah told reporters that non-Afghan Taliban loyalists were preventing Afghan Taliban soldiers from leaving Kunduz. Refugees who have fled Kunduz, however, report that the Taliban never prevented them from leaving.
Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum also said he planned to speak with two Taliban commanders in Kunduz about terms for surrender, but stated he would not negotiate amnesty for non-Afghan troops.
Some Taliban commanders have sought their safe passage to the United Arab Emirates or Kandahar, in the southern Afghanistan, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated there would be no negotiations with the Taliban.
“Any idea that those people… should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something I would certainly do everything I could to prevent,” he said at Monday’s Pentagon briefing.
Late Monday, two Taliban commanders contacted U.N. officials in Islamabad about the Taliban troops reportedly trapped inside Kunduz who wanted to surrender to the U.N.
Brahimi responded that the U.N. declined to oversee the Taliban’s surrender, saying, “It is evident that the United Nations has no means, is not present on the ground, and simply cannot, unfortunately, accede to this request.”