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Kandahar Situation Remains Confusing - 2001-11-17

Afghanistan's former president has returned to his country's capital, five years after he was ousted by the Taleban. Meanwhile, the situation is confused in Kandahar, the stronghold and spiritual birthplace of the Taleban.

Ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani returned to Kabul Saturday, pledging support for a new, broad-based government in his country.

At a news conference after his return, he said his Northern Alliance would not attempt to hang on to power and welcomes a new government as soon as possible. He said formation of such a government depends on, as he put it, the seriousness of the Afghan people and the United Nations.

The alliance, dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks from the north, swept to victory over the Taleban in a lightening series of victories that began just over one week ago. But the alliance control of Kabul angers Pashtuns from the south and threatens to spark new clashes between factions.

United Nations special envoy Francesc Vendrell also arrived in the capital Saturday to meet with Northern Alliance leaders and invite them to a conference on Afghanistan's future.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports continue to emanate from Afghanistan about whether the Taleban will make a stand in Kandahar or withdraw from the city.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported Friday that the Taleban were preparing to pull out. But al-Jazeera television, which has enjoyed close access to the Taleban leadership, quotes a senior Taleban spokesman as saying such reports are lies. The spokesman says thousands of Taleban militia are prepared to fight to keep control of Kandahar.

In another Taleban stronghold in the north, the provincial governor of Kunduz was negotiating terms with the Northern Alliance for his province's surrender. Witnesses said there were U.S. airstrikes on Taleban positions near the city Saturday.

In another development, Northern Alliance leaders Saturday voiced objection to the presence of British troops at the Bagram airbase near Kabul, saying they were not consulted about the move. The British force took over the airbase for humanitarian and relief operations.