KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) When Afghanistan”s interim government was sworn in a month ago yesterday, the ceremony included a symbolic departure from the presidential palace by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. But it turns out he didn”t go far.
Rabbani, who was Afghanistan”s last leader before the Taliban took over, maintains spacious quarters in the palace and turns up almost every day. One Afghan official jokingly uses a Dari-language phrase, roughly translated as someone who has unfurled his bedroll, to describe the ex-president”s near-constant presence.
Rabbani publicly professes loyalty to Afghanistan”s new leader, Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan”s interim administration. Any time he spends in the palace is at Karzai”s behest, he says, and he is only there to offer support and counsel.
Some in Kabul, however, think Rabbani”s hankering after his former digs underscores something that has been plain from the moment the Taliban fell: He believes he belongs in the seat of power.
“It”s up to the people of Afghanistan who they will choose as their leader,” Rabbani said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. “I struggled on behalf of Afghanistan, and the people are appreciative of this.”
White-bearded and clad in his customary black-and-gold turban, seated in an ornate chair with arms like those of a throne, the 62-year-old Rabbani has not lost his taste for the trappings of office.
Aides address him as “Excellency.” He calls himself “We.” His residence, on a roped-off street in Kabul”s most exclusive neighborhood, is guarded by a sizable contingent of northern alliance soldiers wielding Kalashnikov assault rifles even though all armed men except the police have been ordered off the streets of the capital.
“Of course I have to have my personal guards,” Rabbani said when asked about them just after he had declared that all military groups except the national army should be abolished. “They are necessary for me. I have enemies, such as Osama bin Laden.”
Western diplomats in Kabul, trying to foster a peaceful transition to Afghanistan”s next government when Karzai”s six-month mandate expires, are keeping a close eye on Rabbani.
Speaking privately, several said his political ambitions were viewed with a degree of concern in diplomatic circles, in part because of his history as a figure who unhesitatingly presided over ferocious fighting in a quest to cling to personal power.
Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Marxist government three years later, Rabbani and six other rebel leaders agreed to form a government with a rotating presidency. When it was Rabbani”s turn to step aside, he refused.