The Northern Alliance has told the Taliban to surrender its stronghold of Kunduz within three days or face a final assault, amid reports of bitter infighting in the militia's ranks. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to create a post-Taliban government have turned toward Germany, according to reports.
Alliance spokesman Attiq Ullah said the Taliban had until Friday to surrender Kunduz, their sole remaining redoubt in the north, or face an attack by alliance forces that have been ringing the city for days, according to AP.
Foreign troops loyal to Osama bin Laden - mainly Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis - had been barring the Taliban from surrendering the northern city, said the agency.
The BBC and other news services have reported that foreign troops may even be committing suicide to avoid being captured.
``If there is a fight in Kunduz, it will be a bloody one because there are 3,000 foreign fighters and they have nowhere to go,'' a source told AP from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The UN was asked Monday night to take charge of the unconditional surrender of Taliban forces in Kunduz, the top UN envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Tuesday. According to the agency, he said the plea was passed from Taliban commanders in the city through a ``religious leader'' and an another unidentified person.
But the UN has no presence on the ground and so ``cannot unfortunately accede to this request,'' Brahimi told reporters after informing the UN Security Council of the request.
The US has repeatedly said it opposes any deal that would allow enemy forces to escape - particularly the die-hard foreign fighters linked to Al Qaeda, the bin Laden network the US accuses of having ties to the Sept. 11 attacks in which thousands of civilians were killed.
AP reported that cold weather and rain were descending on the area, leaving rebel fighters huddled around fires as US B-52s and attack jets dropped far fewer bombs than in previous days.
An alliance commander, Gen. Mohammed Daoud, was quoted by the agency as saying that the Taliban had shot 470 of their own Kunduz garrison in recent days to prevent them from surrendering. Three hundred of them were killed together with their commander, he added.
Elswehere in Afghanistan, the picture was just as bleak for the Taliban.
Southeast of Kabul, the BBC said various Pashtun tribes were beginning to form a coherent, unified position on the shape of a future Afghanistan.
The UK-based news service said that the tribes were pushing a strongly "peace-oriented" agenda, demanding a UN-sponsored loya jirga - a grand assembly of the nation's elders - to choose a new leader for Afghanistan.
BBC correspondents in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, meanwhile, said the Taliban appeared to be hanging on to control, but added that there were thousands of refugees in previously unknown camps.
INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY TURNS TOWARD GERMANY
As anti-Taliban groups consolidated their positions on the ground, the Northern Alliance agreed Tuesday to attend a UN-brokered power-sharing conference of Afghan factions in Germany, likely early next week, according to AP.
Although the alliance announced it would attend the gathering, which the UN hopes to hold Monday, alliance leader and deposed president Burhanuddin Rabbani said the meeting would mainly be ``symbolic,'' according to the agency, insisting that real decision-making on a post-Taliban government must take place inside Afghanistan.
Rabbani has demanded that the talks be held in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where his alliance faction is in control, while the UN has been pressing for a conference on neutral ground in Europe.
The Northern Alliance, which is widely hated in Kabul for bloody ethnic infighting that took place there in the early 1990s, was unsuccessfully warned by Washington to stay clear of the capital. Since Nov. 13, when the Taliban abandoned the city, the Western allies, fearing a descent into new civil war, have been pushing for a "broad-based" - if not democratic - government. One goal appears to be sidelining Rabbani, who among other things supported Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.
Rabbani's foreign minister, Abdullah, said the alliance would send a single delegation with representatives from all of its five factions, which represent different political, religious and cultural groups and sometimes have bitter rivalries, said AP.
Meanwhile, officials from some 22 countries were holding talks in Washington on Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction, said the BBC.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell was due to open the day of Afghan reconstruction talks on Tuesday attended by representatives of some of the world's richest nations and institutions, according to Reuters.
The US and Japan are hosting the talks, which will begin the process of assessing Afghanistan's most vital post-war needs, such as agriculture, water, education and mine clearance, said the news service.
The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UN Development Program will convene a second reconstruction meeting next week in Islamabad, the BBC quoted US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying - Albawaba.com
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