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Rabbani killing sparks fresh concerns about civil war in Afghanistan

Yesterday's killing of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani has intensified ethnic divisions and is fueling fears that a civil war might break out once US-led forces leave Afghanistan.

By Correspondent / September 21, 2011

An Afghan security member stands guard in front of an image of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghan president and head of the government's peace council, outside his house in Kabul, Sept. 21. Afghans gathered to mourn Rabbani on Wednesday, world peace day, as fears mounted that his death could worsen ethnic divisions and nudge the country towards civil war.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters

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Kabul, Afghanistan

The morning after a suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council, mourners gathered at his home to pay their final respects.

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By all outward appearances, it seemed a calm and peaceful remembrance ceremony. But beneath the surface, the assassination has sparked potentially explosive tensions throughout Afghanistan.

Afghan politics has always been dominated by ethnic divisions. But in recent months, friction has been mounting. A number of Afghans have expressed concerns that civil war may erupt once the US and NATO forces withdraw – and that Mr. Rabbani’s killing comes as an attempt to preemptively eliminate leaders who could oppose the Taliban. Still, many observers and analysts say that it is too early to anticipate a civil war.

“Ethnic tensions in Afghanistan are a reality. Politics remains very ethnically polarized, and when you have an assassination of someone like Rabbani it’s definitely going to exacerbate ethnic tensions,” says Bahar Jalali, chair of the political science department at the American University of Afghanistan. “Whether that’s going to eventually escalate into something, perhaps not a civil war, but the further inflammation of already existing ethnic tensions, that’s definitely going to take shape and it’s going to further polarize politics.”

Rabbani's background

As an ethnic Tajik and a prominent member of the Northern Alliance, Rabbani had difficulty gaining widespread support among the predominantly Pashtun south during his 1992-96 presidency. For much of his time in office, he was more president in name than in practice, as the Taliban controlled large swaths of the country.

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