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U.N. envoy calls for fast work on Afghan stability

Rushing to fill the void in Kabul created by the unexpected flight of the Taliban, the United Nations on Tuesday proposed convening a meeting of Afghan representatives quickly to start work on a provisional administration, and to deploy an "international security presence" in the Afghan capital until a national force can be readied.

Speaking before a Security Council seized with an unusual sense of urgency and excitement, the special U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that establishing order in Kabul as soon as possible was especially important because the Afghan capital carried "immense symbolic value." He reminded delegates that the failure to do so after the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime brought about a devastating civil war and destroyed the city.

Diplomats said Brahimi's plan was certain to receive unanimous approval as country after country lined up to endorse it, though the formal vote on a resolution could come only today.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was immediately dispatching a veteran emissary, Francesc Vandrell, to Afghanistan to take charge on the ground. At the same time, Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, will work on securing the coalition government from abroad. Vandrell, from Spain, was expected to enter Kabul as soon as an advance U.N. security team deemed it safe.

All those involved agreed that speed was required. Diplomats said delays could cause Afghanistan to be divided into a Northern Alliance-controlled region and a Taliban-controlled area in the south, around Kandahar.

Outlining his plan to the Security Council, Brahimi repeatedly stressed _ as he had done since undertaking the Afghan assignment in early October _ that any plan must be broad-based and developed from within the country to stand a chance of acceptance.

"The bitter experience of the last 10 years shows that the solution must be carefully put together and be homegrown, so that it enjoys the support of all the internal and external players, and so that there are no spoilers from the inside or outside who would disrupt its implementation," Brahimi told the council.

No political settlement, he said further, would survive without a security force, especially given the large presence of Arab and al-Qaida bands in the country. "Even a political settlement among all Afghan parties cannot on its own ensure security," Brahimi said. "The pervasive presence of non-Afghan armed and terrorist groups with no interest in a lasting peace will necessitate the introduction of a robust security force able to deter and, if necessary, defeat challenges to its authority."

Brahimi said the best option was an all-Afghan security force, but that this would require time, so the Security Council would have to consider sending in a multinational force. Diplomats said possible participants included Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia _ all Islamic states. Brahimi effectively ruled out a U.N. peacekeeping force, arguing that these were intended to monitor existing agreements and took a long time to set up.

The political plan outlined by Brahimi called first for an immediate meeting of representatives of the Northern Alliance and various exile groups to agree on a framework for a political transition. No venue was decided, but there was talk of Qatar or Kabul. That meeting would propose concrete steps to convene a provisional council drawn from all ethnic and regional groupings and presided over by someone who symbolized national unity. No one was named, but the obvious candidate was the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, 87, who has been meeting with Brahimi and various Afghan groups in Rome, where he haslived in exile almost 30 years.

Next, the provisional council would form a traditional administration and a plan for a political transition to take no more than two years. An emergency loya jirga, a traditional national assembly, would be called to approve the program.

"To be sustainable, Afghans themselves must be engaged in the creation of institutions of good governance," Brahimi said. "Parachuting a large number of international experts (in) could overwhelm the nascent transitional administration and interfere with the building of local capacity."