Afghan Factions on Guard after Rebel Leader's Return to Kabul

Published November 18th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The return of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani to Kabul, five years after he was ejected from the city by the Taliban, has left ordinary Afghans worried about the future, and could increase the jostling for power in the increasingly chaotic country, said reports. 

Rabbani told a press conference on Saturday that he welcomed the establishment of a broad-based government and made clear that his opposition Northern Alliance had not come to Kabul to rule, according to the BBC Online, which noted the unhappiness of many Afghans with his arrival. 

The ex-president's Jamiat-e-Islami fighters are the biggest faction in the alliance, according to AP.  

"We have not come to Kabul to extend our government. 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," the news service quoted the formerly ousted leader as saying.  

Although the Northern Alliance has held the Afghan seat at the UN, most nations have insisted that any new government in Kabul should be more broadly based than the alliance, which represents the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazzara ethnic groups, according to a MSNBC. 

The US earlier urged the alliance to stay out of Kabul, fearing that the faction's occupation would spark the kind of ethnic wars that tore apart the country before the Taliban took over in the mid 1990s. But the alliance ignored its patron's stance and seized the capital. 

A top UN official also arrived in the city on Saturday for talks on shaping Afghanistan's future government, said the BBC.  

UN special envoy Francesc Vendrell was expected to invite the Northern Alliance to join a UN conference on establishing an interim multi-ethnic government, possibly next week, noted the news service.  

Earlier, Vendrell told the BBC's Pashto-language service that Rabbani would not automatically become leader in a new Afghanistan, where many groups reject his authority, added the BBC. 

Up to 50,000 people died in the factional fights during the former president's tenure. 

 

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURES 

 

Russia has come out strongly in favor of Northern Alliance dominance in post-Taliban Afghanistan, and other backers of the alliance include Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and India, according to reports. 

But Pakistan, the most strategic US ally in the bombing campaign that led to the Taliban retreat, strongly opposes the alliance and insists that any new government contain significant representation for Pashtuns, who make up the bulk of Pakistan's former clients, the Taliban, according to MSNBC. 

The country's largest ethnic group is the Pashtuns, who AP says served as the backbone of the Taliban's harsh five-year regime. 

Meanwhile, backed by the United States and Europe, the UN hopes a government can be installed during an all-party conference under the chairmanship of the exiled former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, who is a Pashtun, according to MSNBC. 

They are looking to a meeting of all Afghan factions on neutral ground, so the Bush administration has urged the alliance to drop its demand for Kabul as the venue, a US official in Washington told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.  

Other players in the developing power struggle include ethnic leaders outside Kabul. One is Ismail Khan, a legendary anti-Soviet mujahedeen commander whose troops helped secure western Afghanistan this week, including the city of Herat, according to MSNBC.  

Khan, who hails from a Persian-speaking minority unlikely to be palatable to many Afghan Pashtuns, said Friday that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban had no role to play in Afghanistan — and addded, said the news service, that the American forces who helped rout them could leave as well. 

Along with Northern Alliance discontent over the presence of British troops in Afghanistan, Khan's remarks paint a picture of a country increasingly unhappy with Western intervention. 

 

FIGHTING CONTINUES, BIN LADEN STILL AT LARGE 

 

While diplomacy occupied the world stage, fighting continued to rage in much of Afghanistan Saturday, and fugitive leader bin Laden eluded Western efforts to track him down. 

A Taliban spokesman announced Saturday that the militia did not know where bin Laden was, reported the BBC, while claiming the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the US was still in Afghanistan.  

Pakistan, meanwhile, said it would not give political asylum to bin Laden or the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, added the news service. 

A spokesman for the Taliban in their southern stronghold of Kandahar said they had no intention of abandoning the city, amid press reports that a plan to hand over the area to a local Pashtun leader had fallen through. 

Meanwhile, thousands of Taliban troops trapped in the northern town of Kunduz exchanged artillery fire with Northern Alliance units, said the BBC. 

At the same time, AP reported, Pashtun tribal leaders reached agreement on a new administration for Jalalabad and surrounding Nangarhar province, defusing tension which arose after the Taliban withdrew from the area - Albawaba.com

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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