Kim Sengupta: A controversial, charming man who had a key role to play


Related Topics

Burhannudin Rabbani enjoyed being a controversial and contentious figure, fond of declaring that anyone in Afghanistan's public life who was against compromise was selfish and did not have the country's best interest at heart.

He was not, he would stress, like his fellow Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum, who changed sides with alacrity and frequency during the long and bitter years of the civil war. When, at a lunch Rabbani had organised with journalists, I suggested that it was people like Dostum who had inspired the old joke: "You can never buy some Afghans – you have got to rent them by the hour," he laughed uproariously. Rabbani would say that it was his desire to put Afghanistan first which led him to accept President Karzai's offer of becoming the head of the Peace Council set up to negotiate with the enemy. It meant he had to put aside his long standing antipathy towards the Taliban, against who he had fought some of the most vicious battles of the conflict.

Rabbani would say privately that he did not trust many of the Taliban and other militant groups, while denying vehemently that this had anything to do with the fact that he was a Tajik and they were, predominantly, Pashtun.

The main problem, he would claim, was the malign interest of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, who controlled and directed swathes of the insurgency.

Rabbani had hoped that his scholarly knowledge of Islam and his track record of defending the faith against the Russians and then the semi-secular left-wing regimes of Babrak Karmal and Najibullah would open up a degree of common ground with the Talibs.

But he despaired of what he saw as their simplistic and reactionary stance in the interpretation of religion. In particular he remained alarmed at their subjugation of women, contrasting it with his own time in the Mujaheddin, when he had insisted that everything possible should be done to facilitate education for women. Rabbani was not, however, a paragon of wisdom and restraint in the civil war.

Like the other participants, he had blood on his hands, especially during the storming of Kabul in the last days of the Communist government and the bitter internecine strife which followed among the Mujaheddin.

The Afghan capital was shelled relentlessly, causing a huge number of civilian deaths.

As journalists, most of us failed to put Rabbani under critical questioning for his culpability in this lethal episode. This was partly to do with the fact that he seemed a better person than many who had been through that period and since reached positions of power.

It was also because many in the media fell for the charm of the old man with bright eyes often crinkled in a smile over the flowing white beard who did seem capable of bringing people together.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Prevention is better than cure if we want to save the NHS

Tanni Grey Thompson
Question time: Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband on his YouTube show  

Russell Brand's Labour endorsement is a stunning piece of hypocrisy

Lee Williams
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before