Koenigswinter, Germany Talks among four Afghan factions on how to share power once the Taliban are defeated got off to an optimistic start Tuesday, with a U.S. official saying all sides favor giving Afghanistan's former king a role as a unifying figure.
The U.S. government's Central Asia envoy, James F. Dobbins, said the sides indicated in informal discussions that former King Mohammad Zaher Shah should have a leading role, likely symbolic, in an emerging Afghan administration. Dobbins cautioned that discussions were only beginning.
"I think the one element which was common to every group I met with, all four of them, was a common vision of how the king would fit into this," Dobbins said. "Everybody sees the ex-king as a rallying point and hopes that he will be ready and able to play that role as they elaborate a new structure."
None of the factions favor a return of the monarchy, and northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani, who has played down the importance of any meeting outside Afghanistan, strongly opposes the king as head of state.
Still, Dobbins said the northern alliance has indicated it would accept the king in a symbolic role, and that they have direct contacts with Rome, where the king, now 87, has been living in exile since 1973.
With billions in aid and regional stability at stake, the factions are under intense pressure from the United States and Afghanistan's neighbors, all exerting influence from the corridors, to reach a consensus on an interim administration and security force within five days.
In the first measurable progress, the four factions representing the northern alliance, exiles backing the former king and two smaller exile groups agreed their goal was to establish an interim administration that would lead to a national council of tribal leaders, or loya jirga, U.N. spokesman Ahmand Fawzi said. The loya jirga could convene by the Afghan New Year in March.
The national council would then approve a transitional administration that would govern for up to two years, leading way to a second loya jirga, which would approve a constitution that will guarantee rights for all Afghans, women included, with the goal of elections, Fawzi said.
The groups held bilateral talks Tuesday afternoon, but postponed a planned full session with U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Tuesday night so they could continue individual consultations, Fawzi said.