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Afghan Deal Within Reach

Dogged by ethnic squabbles but moving fast, Afghan factions negotiating in Königswinter, Germany, could reach an agreement by Saturday.


UN officials are cautiously optimistic

Plans are reportedly gelling for a transition to democracy in Afghanistan. The four factions participating in UN-sponsored talks have agreed to form an interim cabinet and government for two years.

The two-year transitional regime, according to the plan, will be followed by free elections and an orderly transition of power.

Finer details of the plan still need to be agreed. But United Nations spokesman Ahmed Fawzi told journalists Friday, that a long session on the weekend could end with a successful conclusion.

"We are working towards concluding an agreement by tomorrow," Fawzi said.

If it happens, the deal will provide at least one stable option for the war-torn country.

As United States forces continued their bombing of the Taliban's stronghold in Kandahar on Friday, anti-Taliban fighters gained ground in the desert around the city. Military officials in Washington started using the language of "endgame" too, indicating that the end may be in sight.

Ethnic tensions simmer

But even with an agreement, Afghanistan is rife with unsettled business between rival tribes and nationalities, which many times before has led to violence.

Two flares of this sort went up Friday

First a delegate from the Northern Alliance left Königswinter. He complained that his fellow Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, were under represented at the talks.

Also, an ethnic Hazara leader in the Afghan capital Kabul asked for UN peacekeepers to provide security there. Because his group is not represented by Northern Alliance forces that seized the city from retreating Taliban forces.

But the option of a UN peacekeeping presence was reportedly played down by officials in Washington. They want the ongoing war to run its course before a post-war security structure is put in place.

Peacekeeping was a hot topic in Königswinter, as well. Northern Alliance President Burhanuddin Rabbani said that no more than 200 UN troops were necessary.

A Northern Alliance advisor, in reaction, offered assurance that the Alliance would take a softer line than their president on the issue of foreign troops, Reuters reported.

"Our view is that we welcome UN peacekeepers to establish security in Afghanistan until we have a 100 percent democratic government where all people will enjoy their rights," he said.

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