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U.S. and U.N talk post-Taliban rule

By CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Preparing for the eventual collapse of the Taliban, the Bush administration and the United Nations have intensified efforts to work with Afghan opposition groups to form a future government in Kabul.

Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan Monday for consultations with President Pervez Musharaff, where the agenda included a new government in Afghanistan.

Aboard his plane, Powell said he appointed Richard Haas, his Director of Policy Planning for the State Department, as his personal representative to deal with the international community on a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Earlier this month Hass traveled to Rome meet with exiled Afghan King Zahir Shah, who officials say is shaping up to be an interim head of a post-Taliban government.

Powell said the Bush administration was in touch with a variety of Afghan groups comprising "all the political elements" of Afghan society, including the exiled king, the Northern Alliance and others.

But administration officials and members of the Afghan groups say while the king could serve as a rallying force for a post-Taliban government, his age and lack of administrative experience make him an unlikely long-term head of state.

Administration officials tell CNN currently the Afghan groups are "jockeying" for a place in an Afghan "loya jirga," or supreme council, which would bring together 120 ethnic and tribal representatives to draw up a new government structure, political process and constitution for a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

"They are all working out their terms," the official said. "They are choosing their own representatives. They do have a lot of work to do."

Cyprus group

Administration officials tell CNN the configuration would likely be 50 seats for the Northern Alliance, 50 seats for the king and his followers and 20 for the other groups. One official said "about 50" Afghans who are negotiating the future government want to be the next president of a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

On Friday, members of the Cyprus group, a multi-ethnic conglomerate of Afghan intellectuals, will meet in Cyprus to discuss their final positions before traveling early next week to Rome for a meeting with the king and his followers, Amiryar, a professor at George Washington University and member of the Cyprus group told CNN.

"The administration is telling us to 'get on the ball, time is not on your side,'" Amiryar said.

An administration official added an "interim meeting" of the supreme council could take place shortly after that.

Afghan groups and administration officials say they have been in touch with Taliban moderates who are considering defecting from the militia and could be part of a post-Taliban regime.

"They are trying to save themselves," one administration official told CNN of reports of Taliban defections.

While he said the reports Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel had left the country and was defecting from his Taliban rules are unconfirmed, the administration "wouldn't be surprised, because Mutawakel was always considered an Afghan nationalist who was never loyal to bin Laden or al Qaeda."

This official said Mutawakel "represents educated Afghans, who could follow him if he defects."

"The Taliban is going to fall, the official added. "It is all a matter of time."

U.N.'s 'leading role'

Powell said aboard his plane the United Nations will play a "leading role," in shaping a post-Taliban Afghanistan and he had spoken twice in the last three days with Secretary General Kofi Annan about the situation.

Administration officials tell CNN the United Nations' role will manifest itself in three ways: working with the international coalition in advance of a Taliban collapse, helping the Afghan groups come up with a political agreement for a post-Taliban government and with humanitarian aid and reconstruction of the country after the Taliban fall.

For years the U.N. has attempted to get Afghan opposition groups to consider a broad-based multi-ethnic government. But Kofi Annan this month appointed Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian Foreign Minister, as the chief UN envoy for Afghanistan.

U.N. and U.S. administration officials say he will work with the Afghan groups to settle their differences and come up with a formula for a new government.

National building

A United Nations official said the U.N. would likely apply its experience in nation building, such as it did in Kosovo and East Timor, to help the Afghans rebuild. Such help could include working with the institution building, such as law enforcement, judiciary and education.

One administration official told CNN a "forward looking" U.N. Security Council resolution addressing political and economic reconstruction and authorizing an international peacekeeping force would be likely.

"There is the notion being discussed about an internal security arrangement," the official said.

Administration officials say a major concern is a potential power vacuum if the Afghan opposition groups are unable to come to agreement before the Taliban falls.

"This is happening faster than anyone imagined," he said. "We don't want the Northern Alliance moving into Kabul and instigating reprisals so that the Afghans go back to their old behavior."

Disarming the Afghans

Still officials believe even without a formal government in place, Afghans will be able to keep the country going and provide basic services if the factions would agree to stop fighting.

"We want certainty because it is easy," one official said. "But this not a country where all the blocks will fit easily into place."

Officials say another problem is what to do with young Taliban fighters who are still holding weapons after the leadership falls. This is where, officials say, US public diplomacy can be very effective in preventing lawlessness and massive infighting. These officials say the US is offering "incentives," through the promise of reconstruction, for the Afghans to move from an illicit drug smuggling, war-based economy.

"You are never going to disarm the Afghans," one official said about US radio broadcasts and leaflets being sent into Afghanistan.

"But they have to know something else, something better is coming. We are trying to send the message that there is nothing to be gained by fighting the coalition and everything to be gained by cooperating with what comes next."


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