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Afghanistan: Rabbani Says UN Forced Cabinet Choices

  • Charles Recknagel

The current president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, is charging UN negotiators with having forced delegates at the recent Bonn conference to reach an accord, an accord whose details have raised objections from several Afghan leaders. As RFE/RL's Charles Recknagel reports from Kabul, the charges come just a day after the UN's special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, left the city with renewed commitments from leaders that they will implement the Bonn agreement.

Kabul, 13 December 2001 (RFE./RL) -- It is not immediately clear what motivated Burhanuddin Rabbani to invite the international press corps to the presidential palace in Kabul yesterday. But from the start of the press conference, it appeared the acting president had two things on his mind.

One was to air what is clearly his strongly held resentment over how the Bonn accord was reached in more than a week of intensive negotiations earlier this month.

The other was, despite his reservations, to emphasize that he accepts the agreement and will not stand in the way of a handover of power to a new interim administration on 22 December.

The Bonn accord calls for the interim administration to run six months and be responsible for preparing a national assembly, or Loya Jirga, that will establish a follow-up transitional government to lead the country to general elections.

Rabbani said he fully endorses the choice of ethnic Pashtun Hamid Karzai to be the prime minister of the interim administration. But he faulted UN negotiators for pushing delegates at the Bonn conference to reach an accord before, as he says, a full consensus was reached among leaders in Afghanistan.

He said he and several other Northern Alliance leaders particularly object to the selection of a cabinet for Karzai in Bonn, something he says should have been left for later.

"When [the Northern Alliance] delegates went [to Bonn] for negotiations, they were not supposed to sign any agreement. But since there was pressure and [the UN brokers] said if we do not sign the agreement the pressure of the international community will increase, [the delegates] signed the agreement just because there was pressure."

Rabbani also said that later objections to the terms of the accord -- particularly to cabinet choices -- by other Northern Alliance leaders, such as ethnic Uzbek General Abul Rashid Dostum, were due to the accord being reached prematurely.

The acting Afghan president also said he now feels Karzai should be permitted to revise the cabinet choices in order to reach a fuller consensus around them. He said he brought up that request in a meeting with UN envoy Brahimi in Kabul two days ago. Rabbani:

"As I explained to [Brahimi], it is the normal system that whenever a prime minister is appointed, he be authorized to name his own cabinet. But you [the UN] appointed the cabinet by yourself without him deciding it. Maybe Karzai doesn't even know most of the cabinet members."

Rabbani continued:

"Even though the decision has already been taken in Bonn and has been approved by the UN Security Council, I still asked Mr. Brahimi if it would be possible for Mr. Karzai to be authorized to revise the cabinet later."

Brahimi has said he believes no changes to the Bonn accord should be discussed until after the power transfer takes place. But he did leave open the possibility that Karzai could make "some changes" to his cabinet after that time.

Rabbani restated his own disappointment that the Bonn accord does not give a role to political figures and commanders who led the 10-year war of resistance against the Soviet Union. He had suggested the accord include establishing a Supreme Council composed of 10 to 20 people that would comprise so-called jihad leaders from the past.

Instead, the Bonn accord sidestepped this older generation of Afghan leaders -- many of whom have fought each other in factional wars -- in favor of a younger generation of cabinet leaders.

The accord also creates a Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga, which is to consist of 21 members, a number of whom should have expertise in constitutional or customary law. The members are to be selected from candidates submitted by participants in the UN talks on Afghanistan, as well as from Afghan professional and civil society groups.

Rabbani said that sidestepping jihad leaders constituted interference in Afghanistan's affairs.

"[I told Mr. Brahimi that] the leaders of the jihad had been struggling mountain by mountain against the aggression in Afghanistan, and you [the UN] just forgot those people."

He continued:

"Anyway, we hope that peace and stability will be restored in our country. And we hope that this will be the last interference by foreign countries in Afghanistan."

The acting Afghan president -- who has been the UN-recognized leader of the country since his government was ousted from Kabul in 1996 -- said he personally supports the choices for the key ministries of foreign affairs, defense, and interior. These posts were awarded to the Northern Alliance and will be filled by the acting ministers now in them (Abdullah Abdullah, Mohammad Fahim and Yunis Qanooni, respectively).

Other cabinet posts went to the three other factions that participated in the Bonn talks. Those factions were the Rome Group of ex-king Zahir Shah; the Peshawar Group of pro-king Afghan exile leaders in Pakistan; and the Cyprus Group of exiled Afghans in Iran.

During the Bonn conference, Rabbani -- who remained in Afghanistan -- several times balked at giving his approval for an accord. That prompted the Northern Alliance's chief negotiator, Yunis Qanooni, to threaten to ignore Rabbani in order to conclude a deal.

While Rabbani used yesterday's press conference to air his grievances over the way the Bonn process was conducted, he nevertheless stressed that he will step down on 22 December, as agreed. But he said he plans to play an active role in helping shape a new Afghan constitution.

"I will transfer power to the new interim government, and then I will be in a new phase of political struggle. We have finished our armed struggle, and now we are beginning a political struggle. And we have ordered the political leaders of the United Front (Northern Alliance) to work on the party constitution and that will be a starting point for our future political activity."

Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik from Badakshan Province in the far northeast, was appointed Afghan president in late 1992, six months after the last communist government fell. An Islamic scholar considered moderate by Afghan standards, he heads the Jamiat-I-Islami Party that had some of the best commanders during the war against the Soviet Union. His popular commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated by suspected agents of Osama bin Laden in early September.

Rabbani himself is a controversial figure for many in Kabul due to widespread factional warfare during his term in power. The fighting destroyed wide areas of the capital.

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