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Bonn to Host Talks on Afghanistan's Future

All eyes will be on the former German capital on Monday as Afghan leaders converge upon it amidst tight security. arrangements.

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Petersberg near Bonn where the Afghan talks will be held

The all important talks on shaping Afghanistan's political future will now take place in the former capital of Bonn in the heavily guarded fortress of Petersberg on Monday. The secluded government guest house perched on a hill top has hosted many high profile summits in the past.

The talks begin coincidentally on the day Germany mobilizes its first troops for the U.S-led war in Afghanistan.

Leaders of Afghan's ethnic and political groups will converge amid tight security in Bonn on Monday for talks to form an interim government for their war-torn country.

Representatives of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, supporters of the exiled king, Zahir Shah, Afghan exiles in Iran and Pakistan-based refugees are invited to the United Nations-hosted meeting.

Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni will head the Alliance team while an aide to the king said he would send a high-ranking delegation which could surprisingly include a woman – in sharp contrast to the fundamentalist Taliban which subjugated and kept women at home.

The talks will try to build a provisional council that will
pave the way for a traditional Loya Jirga -a grand assembly
of faction chiefs and tribal elders -to select a transitional
government until a constitution is adopted and elections held.

Diplomats from United States, Britain, Pakistan and Russia are also expected to attend. Washington will send its envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, while Moscow will dispatch an official with past Afghan experience, Zamir Kabulov.

"Brahimi is in the driver's seat...We are providing structural support, all else comes from the United Nations," said one diplomat, referring to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Security concerns

Officials in Germany are tight lipped about the conference due to security reasons.

The possibility that supporters of Osama Bin Laden might be in Germany is quite real.

Three of the four kamikaze pilots involved in the September 11 attacks that triggered the Afghan war, including alleged ringleader Mohamed Atta, lived in Hamburg and other suspects with German ties are still at large.

Only last week, the head of Germany's federal crime office said Islamic militants prepared to wage a jihad (holy war) may have lived undercover in Germany for up to 15 years.

Expectations not too high

Not much is expected from the conference in Bonn. The main concern is that the southern-based Pashtun, from whom the Taliban drew its support, will not be sufficiently represented.

"I don't want to raise expectations too high," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a news conference in London.

"It will take some time before a fully-fledged government, equivalent to that of a normal nation state, can be established".

German Afghan ties

Political experts believe the choice of Germany as a location is no coincidence. It has strong ties with Afghanistan dating back about a century and Germany is perceived as a neutral country.

Afghanistan is one of a number of Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, which have had good relations with Germany.

In 1920, Afghan King Amanullah paid what was recognized as the first state visit by a foreign dignitary to Germany, still regarded as a pariah nation after World War One.

After World War Two, contact continued with Germany giving more development aid per capita to Afghanistan than to any other country. German aid continued till the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

A handful of humanitarian aid agencies were also active in Afghanistan. Independent groups, such as German-based Shelter Now, eight of whose workers were arrested by the Taliban in August, continued the work.

Germany also has one of the largest Afghan communities outside Asia and the United States, with 70,000 to 100,000 political exiles and students in the country.

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