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Four Afghan Factions Thrash it Out in Bonn

The participants of the UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan’s future share one common feature: all oppose the Taliban. But little else unites the groups, several of which have fought against each other in the past.

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Yunis Qanuni is heading the powerful Northern Alliance delegation at the Afghan talks in Germany.

They have one common goal. Every group at the Afghan talks near Bonn wants to be part of the future broad-based government in Afghanistan.

But the delegates from four major factions are otherwise as diverse as Afghanistan itself. Some of them have lived in the West for years and don suits and ties. Others sport flowing beards and long robes.

The Northern Alliance

The multi-ethnic Northern Alliance is the most powerful of the four participating groups, as it now has military control over much of Afghanistan. But it faces intense international pressure to share its power with other Afghan groups.

A central problem for the Northern Alliance is that is has few Pashtuns in its ranks. Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and their representation is crucial to any prospect of Afghan reconciliation.

Also, the Northern Alliance itself consists of splinter divisions who do not see eye-to-eye with each other. The only thing that united them was their common fight against the Taliban. Now that this battle appears to be almost over, the question remains open whether the various blocs can reach agreement.

The Northern Alliance was formed after the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996. Its nominal head is President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik. He is not attending the Bonn talks. Rabbani has played down hopes the meeting could quickly produce a transitional administration. Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni, also an ethnic Tajik, is leading this delegation.

The Peshawar Group

Hamed Gailani

Sayed Hamed Gailani, head of the Peshawar delegation addresses the delegates at the start of the UN organized talks on Afghanistan in Koenigswinter near Bonn, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2001. The Peshawar delegation is one of four delegations taking part in the talks. (AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski)

This group is made up mostly of exiled Pashtun tribal leaders. They are headed by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, prominent religious leader of a Sufi Islamic sect in Afghanistan. His son Hamid Gailani (photo) is heading the delegation in Germany.

The Pakistan-backed Peshawar group is named after the Pakistani border town. In October, the elder Gailani had called on hundreds of ethnic Pashtuns to convene in Peshawar. But his attempts failed to establish an interim government shortly before Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance.

The Royalists

Abdul Sattar Sirat

Abdul Sattar Sirat, advisor to former king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

This group from Rome, Italy represents former King Mohammed Zahir Shah. The 87-year-old Pashtun monarch has lived in Rome since he was ousted in a 1973 palace coup. He is not attending the talks, but has sent la ongtime aide and spokesman Abdul Sattar Sirat (photo) to lead this delegation.

The former king hopes for a symbolic role in uniting Afghans. All four delegations say they support his participation. But they disagree on whether he will be an ordinary citizen, a figurehead or have real power.

The Royalist delegation also includes two women. They are being seen as a clear signal that both sexes have an important role to play in the new Afghanistan. Rona Yusuf Mansuri, who is based in Germany, and Sima Wali, who lives in the US, are both prominent Afghan women’s rights activists.

The Cyprus Group

This Iran-backed group was launched in the late 1990s as a rival to the former king's faction. It represents exile politicians and tribal leaders.

The Cyprus delegation is led by Houmayoun Jareer, son-in-law of the Islamic radical Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who waged a civil war against Rabbani's forces in the 1990s. Hekmatyar has been held responsible for much of Kabul’s destruction between 1992 and 1996.

The Cyprus group – together with the Northern Alliance and the Royalists – has called for a Loya Jirga to decide on Afghanistan’s future government. This is a grand assembly of tribal chiefs and elders.

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