Ex-Afghan president returns to Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani returned to the Afghan capital Saturday for the first time since he was deposed by the Taliban in 1996, said the Northern Alliance's foreign ministry.
"I have not come here to extend my government, but I have come for peace and to prepare the ground for peace and to invite all Afghans and even outsiders who are working towards peace," he told reporters in a news conference following his arrival.
Last week, Rabbani and other leaders of the Northern Alliance called for a meeting in Kabul, which they captured from the Taliban on Tuesday, to discuss formulating a post-Taliban government. It was not clear if this was the purpose for his visit.
The U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, favors a meeting outside of Afghanistan's borders.
"The agenda is to take the necessary steps as fast as possible with as many short cuts as the Afghans will allow us to (put together) a provisional administration to take charge of Kabul on behalf of the whole people of Afghanistan," Brahimi said Saturday. "We've asked a number of countries and the United Arab Emirates was the first one to kindly say they would welcome a meeting there and we are extremely grateful to them, but we are discussing with the Afghans to see where it is more convenient for them to hold this meeting."
Rabbani's arrival also could be a sign that the alliance is bypassing previous commitments as Rabbani had agreed not return to Kabul until there was an agreement on a post-Taliban government.
Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister, told CNN that Rabbani did not return to Kabul to hold onto his role as Afghan president. When asked if Rabbani would be willing to cede power to another elected leader, Abdullah said, "Of course, if this was a decision made by representatives of the people."
He said Rabbani's visit to Kabul was misinterpreted.
"The presence of our political leadership, of our security forces in Kabul shouldn't be interpreted as a move to block the political settlement," Abdullah said, adding that "it would, rather, help that political settlement."
Rabbani is scheduled to meet with U.N. representative Francis Vendrell in Kabul, Abdullah said.
Rabbani is still recognized as Afghanistan's president by the United Nations and most countries. But Rabbani leads only one faction of the Northern Alliance, the Jamiaat-e-Islami, which dominates the exiled government.
The alliance itself is a loose collection of fighters that oppose the Taliban and is composed mainly of ethnic minorities like Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. The Taliban's support is mostly drawn from Pashtuns, which is the dominant ethnic group in the country, although not a majority.
Residents in Kabul are concerned Rabbani's arrival could spark bitter ethnic infighting among the Northern Alliance, which took control of the Afghan capital Tuesday.
Violence between rival warlords and former mujahedeen commanders, including those in the Northern Alliance, ravaged Kabul before the Taliban took control five years ago.
Abdullah disputed reports of internal strife, saying the alliance, also known as the United Front, "represents the diversity of our society."
"We have learned how to work together to get rid of the Taliban in the first place and to find a lasting settlement for Afghanistan," Abdullah said.
The United Nations and the international community do not want the Northern Alliance to lead a post-Taliban government. Instead, they support a broad-based government.
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