Moving to heal their ruined and fractious country, Afghans signed an accord Wednesday to create a multiethnic government in which a triumphant military force, the Northern Alliance, will share power with an array of rivals that excludes the all-but-vanquished Taliban.
Their landmark deal, brokered far from a homeland in its 23rd year of war, calls for an interim council to govern Afghanistan for six months starting Dec. 22 with help from a multinational peacekeeping force, clearing the way for billions of dollars in foreign aid needed to rebuild the country.
But as delegates of four Afghan factions celebrated the agreement with bearhugs and applause, U.N. mediators warned that the deal faces several hurdles that could thwart the goal of peaceful democratic rule.
The accord must withstand the country's intense ethnic, regional and religious interests, even as U.S. and anti-Taliban forces pursue armed remnants of the radical Islamic movement.
Hours after the jubilant ceremony came news that Hamid Karzai, the warlord named to lead the new ruling council as prime minister, had been slightly wounded by a U.S. bomb as he fought to capture the besieged Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
Afghan delegates here were relieved to hear that the bomb, which accidentally killed three U.S. soldiers, left Karzai with only abrasions from flying debris.
Wednesday's accord came just three weeks after U.S. airstrikes helped the Northern Alliance seize the capital, Kabul, and most of Afghanistan from the Taliban, and just over a week after U.N. mediators sequestered the 38 delegates in a fortress-like hilltop resort here with a deadline to form a government by Wednesday.
"I didn't believe that we would sign everything we signed," said U.N. mediator Francesc Vendrell, bleary-eyed after an all-night session that ended at 6:45 a.m. "Compared to other negotiations, it has been one of the most exhausting because we did it all in such a short period.
"An agreement signed with a certain amount of pressure and with so many warlords and forces on the ground could be difficult to implement," he added.
The Northern Alliance, led by minority ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, got 17 seats on the new 30-member ruling council. The deal confirmed the de facto authority of its three most powerful men--Foreign Minister Abdullah, Interior Minister Younis Qanooni and Defense Minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim.
In turn, the alliance agreed that its nominal leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a Tajik, would relinquish his claim to the presidency, which he held from 1992 to 1996, and make way for the new council headed by Karzai, a rival from the country's dominant Pushtun ethnic group.
"Today the Afghans have proved that, just as they know how to fight well, they also know how to sacrifice their positions and to achieve peace," Qanooni, the chief Northern Alliance delegate here, told reporters.
Karzai's faction, dominated by Rome-based exiles loyal to Afghanistan's 87-year-old deposed king, got nine seats on the council in bargaining aimed at balancing ethnic and factional rivalries and empowering women.
A group of exiles based in Pakistan got the remaining four seats after a fourth group, based in Iran, declined the two seats offered it but agreed to support the new government. Mostapha Zaher, the former king's grandson, said the power-sharing deal is "maybe not perfect, but, under the circumstances, it is something honorable."
Two women, both physicians, were named to the council, signaling a revived role for women in public life. They have been barred during five years of Taliban rule from working or going outside the home uncovered.
2 Women Given Government Titles
Sima Samar, an ethnic Hazara and one of five deputy prime ministers, will be in charge of women's and children's affairs. Suhaila Seddiqi, a retired officer who served in the Afghan army under Soviet occupation in the 1980s, was named minister of health; she is Tajik.
The council's ethnic balance only roughly parallels that of the country, which hasn't taken a census since 1970. Eleven of the ministers are Pushtun, eight are Tajik, five are Hazara, three are Uzbek, and three are from smaller groups. To achieve those proportions, a 30th minister was added to the original list of 29.
Karzai, 44, an English-speaking, media-savvy warrior-politician with blood ties to the deposed royal family enjoys respect among Afghanistan's neighbors and was given the top job to help win over Taliban defectors and former supporters, who are mostly Pushtuns from the southern part of the country, participants in the talks said.
U.N. officials acknowledged that the hastily appointed council is an imperfect reflection of the country and thus susceptible to challenges.
"The situation in Afghanistan is far too complex for quick solutions," chief U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told a closing ceremony attended by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "Instead, what this agreement represents is a breathing space, an interim period when the people can take the first of many steps that will be required."
During its six months in power, the council is to name a commission that would in turn appoint a supreme court and organize an emergency loya jirga, a traditional assembly of about 700 ethnic and provincial leaders.
The loya jirga--to be convened by the exiled king, Mohammad Zaher Shah--would then pick a new executive and legislature to run the country for up to two years while a new constitution is written, another loya jirga is called and elections are held.
Zaher Shah, a popular and unifying symbol in his country, is expected to return from Italy next year for the first time since a 1973 coup ended his 40-year reign and abolished the monarchy, his grandson said.
Appeal for Aid Expected From Meeting
Wednesday's accord was rushed to completion in time for a 15nation donors conference on Afghanistan, which opened later in the day in Berlin and is now expected to appeal for billions of dollars in emergency aid.
Germany estimates that $6 billion will be needed over the next five years to rebuild Afghanistan's shattered economy, feed 7.5 million Afghans who face hunger this winter and bring home an estimated 5 million refugees. The country has been in bloody turmoil for nearly a generation--including 10 years of embattled Soviet occupation, a civil war, five years of Taliban rule and the entrenchment of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, which is blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America.
"Because the suffering of your people has been so great, their expectations are high and you cannot afford to fail them this time," Brahimi told the delegates.
"The desire to aid Afghanistan is enormous, but it is bound to fade," he warned, "unless the interim authority and the transitional authority that follows it live up to your commitments and prove to the world that they are up to the task.
"The real work starts now."
U.N. and Western officials say they foresee several pitfalls ahead.
They are concerned that Rabbani, a 61-year-old religious scholar who has frequently sniped at the talks from his presidential palace in Kabul, may move to block or delay the scheduled Dec. 22 transition. Abdur Rasul Sayyaf, an Islamic fundamentalist warlord in Rabbani's camp, is opposed to the deal signed here.
Rabbani and his allies have suggested in recent days that the accord will allow the West to take over Afghanistan, introduce foreign troops, disarm anti-Taliban warlords and organize war crimes tribunals.