The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 18, 2001
Former president of
Afghanistan returns to capital city
an unstable time, Burhanuddin Rabbani said he "came to Kabul for
peace." Some fears were not allayed.
War With Terror
Afghanistan - Five years after he fled the capital and four days after his
troops routed the Taliban, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani returned
to Kabul yesterday and assumed the position as head of state of a fragile
regime whose legitimacy is likely to be vigorously challenged.
white-bearded and reserved, drove into Kabul in a 15-car convoy. There was
no welcoming parade for the man whose failed government gave way to the
Taliban in 1996, no crowds of joyous citizens casting rose petals on his
car. There was no announcement of his arrival until after he had arrived.
a news conference, Rabbani avoided calling himself Afghanistan's president
and said the Northern Alliance movement of ethnic minorities he heads
would welcome the formation of a broad-based government. But by all
appearances, the Northern Alliance leaders are assuming the role of
government, consolidating power, and calling for negotiations on their own
have not come to Kabul to extend our government," said Rabbani, 61,
an Islamic scholar whose Jamiat-e-Islami party is the alliance's dominant
group. "We came to Kabul for peace. We are preparing the ground to
invite peace groups and all Afghan intellectuals abroad who are working
for the peace."
entry into Kabul, opposed even by some members of his own party, adds a
new element to an unstable mix. The Taliban is still resisting the
Northern Alliance in two key areas, Kandahar and Kunduz. The U.S. military
is still bombing the Taliban and hunting terrorism suspect Osama bin
Laden. British troops landed at Bagram airport north of Kabul on Friday,
ostensibly to provide security for humanitarian aid. A United Nations
representative arrived in Kabul yesterday to call for negotiations among
various Afghan factions, many of which are suspicious of the Northern
Alliance's promises to share power. And several rival chieftains are
staking competing claims of local control.
has never given up his stake as Afghanistan's legitimate head of state.
The Taliban may have ousted him from Kabul, but the United Nations
continues to regard him as the country's representative, primarily because
most nations could not bring themselves to recognize the extremist Taliban
movement. Until recent days, when the Taliban wilted under thousands of
U.S. bombs, the Northern Alliance controlled less than 10 percent of
Afghanistan and Rabbani was based in the provincial backwater of Feyzabad.
After a week of rapid advances, the alliance now controls more than
two-thirds of the country.
and his foreign minister, Abdullah, told a news conference that the
alliance still aimed to form a broad-based, multiethnic government that
includes Pashtuns, the nation's dominant ethnic group - and one
underrepresented in the anti-Taliban coalition. But even while inviting
exiled Afghan groups to negotiate a new government, the alliance is
rapidly moving to consolidate its own government and exert its hold over
the peace process. It says the talks should be conducted in Kabul.
U.N. officials, aware that rivals may be uncomfortable among the security
forces of Rabbani's government, want at least the first meeting to be held
in a "neutral" country such as the United Arab Emirates.
United Nations and other international organizations worry that
Afghanistan will fragment into a renewed civil war if the Northern
Alliance solidifies its hold on power at the expense of other groups.
control over his own party is also suspect; the alliance's real power
resided with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the military chief who was killed two
months ago by suicide bombers posing as a television crew. Last week some
leaders in the party, including Interior Minister Yunas Qanooni, stated
that Rabbani should not enter Kabul as president.
many of Kabul's civil servants returned to work, parking their bicycles in
racks outside ministries as before, but serving new employers.
alliance has posted several thousand police within Kabul and a few
thousand soldiers in barracks outside the city. The troops, most of whom
are Tajik, have been instructed not to mistreat members of other ethnic
some residents are worried. For several days, reports have circulated that
a thousand ethnic Hazara troops loyal to a local warlord were traveling
toward Kabul to protect their kinsmen. Ethnic Hazara units loyal to the
Northern Alliance have been deployed around the city to put a more diverse
face on the coalition, said Jalal Shir Jan, a deputy to brigade commander
Sayed Hussein Anwari.
far, Kabul is quiet. Yet many Kabul residents are uneasy about history
repeating itself. They remember that in 1992, when the mujaheddin ousted
Soviet-backed President Mohammed Najibullah, Kabul went through four
months of relative peace.
was only after the peace process broke down and the mujaheddin failed to
name a new president that Kabul erupted in war that lasted until the
Taliban arrived in 1996. Four years of random killing with rockets left an
estimated 50,000 dead and destroyed Kabul.