N. Alliance under U.S. pressure
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is exerting "maximum" pressure on the Northern Alliance to take part in a broad-based post-Taliban government comprising various Afghan factions, a senior State Department official has said.
The U.S. and the United Nations are scrambling to assemble a meeting of various Afghan groups to develop a transitional authority for Afghanistan as the Taliban flees most major cities.
But the main challenge is to get the Northern Alliance and leaders from the other ethnic and tribal factions to overcome years of civil war in order to agree on who should lead a transitional government.
"It isn't going to be easy ... we are trying to get a disparate group of people together," the senior official said, adding that military advances against the Taliban are giving efforts "an additional push."
"We are not far behind," the official said. "There has been some momentum."
The U.S. envoy to the Afghan opposition, James Dobbins, is in Pakistan meeting with Pakistani and Afghan leaders. The senior official expressed hope that Dobbins was "energizing" members of the Pashtun majority to come to a meeting of Afghan groups, which the U.N.'s point man on Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is hoping to hold in coming days in Abu Dhabi or Geneva.
"We want to get to the point where we have everyone together in a group to work it out," the official said.
But exiled Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and other leaders of the Northern Alliance have not yet said they will attend a meeting outside Afghanistan. They have called a meeting in Kabul, which they captured from the Taliban on Tuesday.
"Hopefully the Northern Alliance will attend," the senior State Department official said.
The United States had called for the Northern Alliance to stay out of Kabul as it gained ground on the Taliban, out of fear the rebels would seek revenge on Taliban supporters.
"We are very worried about reprisals and human rights abuses," the senior State Department official said, but added that "things seem to be relatively okay."
Concern lingers that without a broad-based government, Afghanistan could be hostile to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, and officials say they are counting on the Northern Alliance and Rabbani to keep their promise to share power with their Afghan brethren in a post-Taliban government.
"One of the things that we have going for us is that we are putting together an international reconstruction effort and we hope that will serve as an incentive to participate in a post-Taliban government," said Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary for South Asia Affairs.
The United States and Japan have hastily arranged a meeting of international officials for next Tuesday at the State Department to discuss the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker and other senior State Department officials said officials from various countries and international organizations likely to play a role in the reconstruction efforts will attend the meeting.
The State Department has billed the meeting as an "initial assessment" of what Afghanistan's needs are, and said it will include a discussion of next steps for the country, rather than be a donors' conference for pledges of humanitarian assistance -- which is expected to take place in coming months.
"It will begin as well the process of eliciting support needed to offer the Afghan people a positive vision for a post-Taliban future," Reeker said. "It's a first step."
Reeker and other officials said the discussions could include how countries could offer "in-kind assistance and expertise sharing."
Initial reconstruction efforts are expected to center around what one senior State Department official called "quick fixes" to improve living conditions for Afghans and build confidence in refugees to come back home.
The assistance could include help with agriculture, water, sewage, de-mining, health and education. The official said larger projects, such as rebuilding roads and housing, would come later.
The United States delegation will be led by Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Alan Larson and John Taylor, undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury.
Officials have been invited from Germany, Canada, France, Russia, United Kingdom, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The European Union will be represented by Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency. Officials from Qatar, which currently chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference, will also attend. Norwegian officials will represent the Afghan Support Group.
Representatives from the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank were also invited to attend the meeting.
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