Afghan Factions Agree On Interim Cabinet

KONIGSWINTER, Germany -- Four Afghan factions signed a pact Wednesday to create a new administration headed by an anti-Taliban battlefield commander, concluding a historic agreement aimed at restoring peace and stability to the war-ravaged nation.

Hamid Karzai, a moderate Muslim whose fighters are part of the push to oust the Taliban from its last stronghold in Kandahar, was chosen to head the interim administration to replace Taliban rule after the Northern Alliance won control of most of the country.

Envoys of the Northern Alliance, former King Mohammed Zaher Shah and two smaller exile groups signed the United Nations-mediated accord after nine days of talks at the luxury Petersberg Hotel overlooking Bonn, Germany.

The consensus on the Cabinet triggers a transfer of power in Kabul, scheduled for Dec. 22, and secures billions in promised aid to reconstruct the country.

Afghan delegates were jubilant after completing the deal aimed at ending more than two decades of war and civil strife since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

"Maybe it's not perfect," said the ex-king's grandson, Mostapha Zaher, "Under the circumstances, it is something honorable, something good. I think the future of Afghanistan looks very bright."

The agreement establishes a 30-member interim Cabinet headed by Karzai, meant as the first step toward a broad-based government representing the range of Afghanistan's ethnic groups and regions.

However, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi acknowledged that the delegations represented only part of Afghan society and urged the new interim leadership to integrate all of the country's ethnic and religious groups -- as well as women.

"Nowhere is the feeling of hope greater than among the people of Afghanistan, who during 23 years of tragedy and loss have maintained the hope that peace and stability could be restored one day in their country," Brahimi told the conference's closing session. Applause rang out as delegates signed the accord in a brief ceremony attended by German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The German leaders shook hands with the Afghan envoys and Brahimi embraced them after they all signed.

After haggling over posts, the Northern Alliance controls more than half of the 30 ministries, including the powerful defense, foreign and interior portfolios. The delegation of Rome-based exiles loyal to the former king received at least eight ministries, including the finance, education and reconstruction posts.

Two women were named to posts, Sima Samar, one of five deputy premiers as minister of women's affairs, and Suhaila Seddiqi as health minister.

The final Cabinet list was not being released, however, until 10 or 11 candidates could be contacted to formally accept the posts, UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. The replies were expected later Wednesday.