South Asia

Obituary: Burhanuddin Rabbani

Burhanuddin Rabbani in 2008
Image caption Burhanuddin Rabbani was an Islamic scholar turned politician

Burhanuddin Rabbani, who has died in a bomb attack in Kabul, has been a key player during some of the most turbulent years in Afghanistan's history.

Born in 1940 in Faisabad, northern Afghanistan, Mr Rabbani was a revered Islamic scholar turned politician.

He was schooled in his native province of Badakhshan and at an Islamic school in Kabul before studying Islamic Law and Theology at Kabul University, where he was later employed as a professor at the age of 23.

In 1968 he completed a masters degree in Islamic philosophy at the Al-Azhar university in Cairo.

On his return to Afghanistan in 1968 Mr Rabbani was given the task of organising students in the Jamiat-e-Islami party's campaign to resist the secularisation policies of the government at that time.

He was appointed leader of the party in 1972 but was forced into exile in Pakistan in 1974 under increasing opposition.

When the Soviet invasion took place in 1979, Mr Rabbani became a key figure in the mujahideen - guerrilla fighters who rebelled against the Soviet-backed government and eventually swept it from power.

Analysts say that in his work with the universities, he had already founded many of the Islamic groups that later became the mujahideen.

Jamiat-e-Islami was one of seven Pakistan-based anti-communist groups backed by the US and other Western countries to wage war against the Soviet Union.

Despite his links to these groups he was also a supporter of the right of women to work and the right of girls to enter higher education, in contrast to the Taliban.

Powerful figure

Image caption Mr Rabbani, pictured in 1998, was a senior figure in the Northern Alliance that opposed Taliban rule

After the Soviet withdrawal, the mujahideen factions agreed to nominate Mr Rabbani as Afghan president for a single year - 1992.

However, he hung on to power and in 1994 Kabul was engulfed in civil war as three factions allied against Mr Rabbani to make him relinquish his hold on the rotating presidency.

The ensuing chaos led to the rise of the Taliban, who had emerged from among the Pashtun mujahideen and who eventually drove Mr Rabbani and his supporters from Kabul in 1996.

Almost prophetically in a 1996 interview with the Associated Press, Mr Rabbani said the US should help put together a unity government in Afghanistan.

"They are a powerful country and they must do their duty," he said.

Mr Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, retreated to Faisabad.

But he emerged again as a powerful figure - some say nominal leader - of the powerful Northern Alliance, formed mainly from minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, that opposed Taliban rule.

In the area of Afghanistan controlled by the alliance, what some argued as the more enlightened Islamic principles espoused by Mr Rabbani meant that he was often in ideological and military confrontations with the more hardline Taliban.

The BBC's David Loyn in Kabul says Mr Rabbani was also a contentious figure who was blamed for much of the death and destruction that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

He says the Taliban have wanted to see him dead for a long time.

In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai appointed Mr Rabbani as head of the High Peace Council, which was tasked with drawing in members of the Taliban who were willing to renounce violence and work within the new constitution.

However, the council failed to make progress as warring factions fought to outmanoeuvre each other in the long-running conflict.