Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 18, 2001
Former president of Afghanistan returns to capital city
During an unstable time, Burhanuddin Rabbani said he "came to Kabul for peace." Some fears were not allayed. 

At War With Terror

KABUL, 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.

Rabbani, 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.

At 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 terms.

"We 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."

Rabbani's 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.

Rabbani 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.

Rabbani 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.

But 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.

The 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.

Rabbani's 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.

Yesterday many of Kabul's civil servants returned to work, parking their bicycles in racks outside ministries as before, but serving new employers.

The 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 groups.

But 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.

So 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.

It 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. home page   
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