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Afghan Gov’ts Seek U.N. Recognition

September 21, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ With a broad gesture of his right hand, Noorullah Zadran makes a sweeping motion over a wall-sized map of Afghanistan.

``It is like chess,″ he says of the stalemate in the civil war in his native land. ``Sometimes you come to a point where you can go no further. All you can do then is to take the chess board and use it as a weapon.″

The black-bearded Zadran, dressed in a Western-style three-piece suit, perspires slightly in the stifling heat of his cramped office, above a clinic in the Flushing section of New York’s Queens borough.

From this unofficial mission, Zadran represents Afghanistan’s Taliban religious army before the United Nations. There are none of the trappings of diplomatic ostentation, just a simple inscription above the door: ``There is no God but Allah.″

Zadran acknowledges his job has been an uphill battle.

The United Nations continues to seat the representative of Burhanuddin Rabbani two years after Taliban troops drove his government out of Kabul and as his militia and allies battle desperately to hang on to a shrinking corner of the country’s north.

On the world stage, Afghanistan is virtually a pariah state. The strict Islamic code imposed by Taliban leaders _ banning women from schools and work, for example _ has made Kabul’s new masters so unpopular that only three countries have established diplomatic relations.

The U.S. attack on the bases of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the Taliban government’s subsequent refusal to hand over the alleged terrorist has made the issue of diplomatic recognition even more difficult.

``If they can provide us with credible evidence, we are willing to sit down and discuss the matter of bin Laden,″ Zadran says. ``But until we have diplomatic relations with the United States, we can’t really discuss the issue of extradition.″

By contrast to the unofficial Taliban mission, Rabbani’s delegation to the United Nations is housed in an upper story of a midtown Manhattan high-rise.

A graying career diplomat, Ambassador A.G. Ravan Farhadi has his own maps to show who controls what in Afghanistan.

``In the north, the Taliban occupy several towns and a few roads, but they do not have the countryside,″ he says. ``They are unpopular among the people and resistance to them has already begun.″

The opposition alliance’s tenuous hold on the battlefield aside, Farhadi insists Rabbani and his Cabinet, and not the Taliban, remain the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. The mission carries on as it has since 1992, when Rabbani came to power after a Marxist regime was overthrown in Kabul.

``There is no doubt that for the time being we are in a defensive position,″ he concedes. ``This is less costly for us. For the time being, there is no other solution.″

As Taliban forces have spread their control over much of Afghanistan, their leaders are pressing for the right to be seated at the United Nations. So far, that call has left the U.N. credentials committee unpersuaded.

``There are a lot of concerns about the Taliban, especially regarding the treatment of women,″ says Carlston Boucher, the ambassador from Barbados and chairman of the committee that determines which delegations will be accredited.

``The situation on the ground is very terrible,″ Boucher says. ``We’d like to see things normalize before we make any further decision on whom to recognize.″

Taliban leaders have also made it difficult for the United Nations and other aid agencies to operate in Afghanistan, complicating relations with the international body. On more than one occasion, aid workers have been forced to leave the country altogether.

For Zadran, however, the United Nations is simply stalling on the issue of accrediting the current Kabul government.

``Every time we go there, they give us lectures: ‘Why women are like this? Why men are like that? What about education?’,″ Zadran complains.

He makes no apologies for the Taliban’s adherence to a strict form of Islamic law. ``Islam is the only unifying factor in Afghanistan,″ he says.

But for the would-be rulers of the entire country, Zadran’s counterpart, Farhadi, offers a caveat based on experience: ``Afghanistan is a very difficult country to rule. You cannot easily or for long impose your will.″

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