Kunduz falls; Rabbani okays some Taliban in new government
Sunday November 25, 8:30 PM AFP
Northern Alliance forces entered Kunduz, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency reported, signalling the end of a two-week siege of the last Taliban bastion in northern Afghanistan.
The country's acting president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, opened the door for the eventual participation "as individuals" of some Taliban members in a future interim government.
His statement came ahead of a planned conference Tuesday in Bonn of anti-Taliban Afghan groups in the first step toward a broad-based temporary administration for the war-torn country.
Rabbani also pledged that Alliance forces would not harm surrendering foreigners -- mostly Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network -- who have been defending Kunduz alongside Afghan Taliban troops.
The Pakistan-based AIP, which has close ties with the Taliban, said troops loyal to Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostam took control of Kunduz Sunday after 2,500 of his men moved into the city overnight.
The fall of Kunduz would leave Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, as the only large city under their control; they also hold a few mainly desert provinces in the south, Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun heartland.
The Uzbek warlord is expected in the city later Sunday and his arrival, AIP warned, would constitute a "headache" for his ethnic Tajik allies who helped surround the city from the east.
Another Alliance commander, Kadam Shah, who operates east of Kunduz, said he was waiting for further surrenders before entering the city from the north.
Some 3,000 to 9,000 Taliban troops, around a third of them foreigners, entrenched themselves in Kunduz after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif on November 11, resisting a spectacular Alliance blitz across the north, west and center of the country.
Some 700 Afghan and 600 foreign Taliban surrendered to the Alliance on Saturday -- not without incident.
Rabbani said two surrendering Chechens hurled a grenade at Alliance officers Saturday, killing one and wounding another, in the second incident of its kind on the same day.
Britain's ITV news network said a Taliban soldier blew himself up together with two Alliance fighters with a hand grenade in a suicide attack that also wounded a commander and an ITV journalist.
The Alliance said it believed up to 2,000 Taliban holdouts were entrenched in the area when fighting erupted Thursday, but a commander in the region said "it was a local problem -- everybody who had a gun came out to fight."
Rabbani, the UN-recognized president ousted by the Taliban in 1996, told a press conference that Taliban who "are not criminals" could take part in a future Afghan administration.
"Taliban authorities and officials can participate in the interim government as individuals, not as the Taliban party, if they are selected through the ... loya jirga," he said.
The loya jirga is a traditional meeting of tribal chiefs, which the United Nations hopes will convene as a result of the Bonn conference.
Hundreds of Pashtuns meeting in Attock, northwestern Pakistan, called Sunday for the deployment of a multinational peace force to restore order in the country.
The meeting convened by the Ahmedzai, Afghanistan's largest Pashtun tribe, also called for a demilitarized Kabul and urged delegates to Bonn to fulfil their "historical responsibility."
Rabbani said the Alliance would send an 11-member delegation -- including one woman -- to Bonn, where a total of 21 people have been invited.
Most of the US-led anti-terror coalition -- including some components of the Alliance -- are strongly opposed to any Taliban presence in a future Afghan goverenment.
Rabbani also guaranteed the safety of non-Afghan prisoners.
"Although they have committed some war crimes in Afghanistan they come under the general amnesty that we have declared and they are pardoned if they put their guns down," he said.
Meanwhile a fresh sighting of 11 September mastermind suspect Osama bin Laden at a fortified encampment 56 km (35 miles) southwest of Jalalabad was reported Sunday by the New York Times, quoting a Kabul official.
An alliance commander said last week that bin Laden was at a base 120 km (75 miles) from Kandahar.
In the south, the Taliban maintained control of Kandahar and its environs despite advances by local Pashtun leaders backed by US and British commandos.
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