Killing of former Afghan President Rabbani imperils Taliban peace talks

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a prominent peace council official trying to negotiate a reconciliation deal with the Taliban, was assassinated Tuesday.

By , Correspondent

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    An Afghan policeman runs to the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 20. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed a government peace council set up to facilitate contacts with Taliban insurgents, was assassinated Tuesday by a suicide bomber concealing explosives in his turban, officials said.
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Former Afghan president and head of the central government’s peace talks with the Taliban, Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed in a bomb blast along with several other Afghan officials on Tuesday night, raising questions about future negotiations and the overall stability of Afghanistan.

The assassination comes just a week after the 20-hour siege outside the US Embassy and amid a wave of high-level assassinations this summer that shook up Afghan bases of power.

Many Afghan and international officials had placed increasing weight on the peace process as the only way to provide the country with lasting stability. Especially as the international community begins drawing down and looking to end major combat operations by 2014, finding a peaceful solution to the conflict is critical. The assassination of Mr. Rabbani casts serious doubt on that process.

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“It is shocking news for every Afghan that someone who was the lead man for Karzai’s peace process was killed in a suicide bombing,” says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “It shows that Afghans cannot trust the peace process that is going on anymore.”

President Hamid Karzai created the High Peace Council in September 2010 in an effort to open negotiation channels with the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Rabbani, the president of Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 just before the Taliban came to power, was appointed as the head of the group.

A year after its formation, however, the group has produced few, if any, results. Since the council’s inception, a number of analysts and officials criticized it for lacking anyone with substantive ties to the Taliban and comprising many former Northern Alliance members, staunch enemies of the Taliban.

Afghan negotiations traditionally require an impartial third-party mediator, so many Afghans saw the inclusion of so many Taliban opponents as dooming the High Peace Council to failure from the start.

Rabbani himself remained a controversial selection as head of the peace council, as both a former Northern Alliance member and someone accused of numerous war crimes.

When a Taliban impostor managed to trick negotiators last winter, a number of officials were quick to point out that the incident revealed the dearth of credibility negotiators had with the Taliban as they couldn’t even identify the Islamic organization’s No. 2.

Initial reports indicate that the bomber who killed Rabbani likely managed to enter his home by posing as a Taliban member looking to reconcile. Once inside, he reportedly detonated a bomb hidden in his turban. Given the circumstances, the assassination is likely to stand out as yet another example of why the High Peace Council is ill-equipped to talk with the Taliban.

Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, a senior Afghan official also involved with the peace talks, was reportedly left seriously injured by the blast.

Still, Afghan and international officials have been quick to express their commitment to the peace process.

“This is important to us. We will continue the way of peace,” says Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament from Kabul who visited the scene of the bombing. “We deserve to live as other people of the world.”

Aside from shaking Afghans’ confidence in negotiations, the attacks have once again spotlighted deteriorating security in Kabul.

The blast occurred at Rabbani’s home, which is in one of the most secure areas of the capital, just several hundred meters from the US Embassy that was a attacked a week ago.

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