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

 

Share
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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice