In yet another blow to the Afghan peace process, gunmen assassinated a senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council on Sunday morning. The attackers reportedly pulled up next to Maulvi Arsala Rahmani while he was stuck in Kabul’s rush-hour traffic and opened fire, killing the peace broker.
The murder of Mr. Rahmani comes less than a year after insurgents managed to kill the then-head of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in his own home using a suicide bomber disguised as a Taliban messenger.
Negotiating a settlement with the insurgency has long been seen by the US and NATO as the best way to create an enduring end to the conflict here. The peace process has suffered numerous blows and embarrassments in the more than two years since it was begun in earnest, attaining little in the way of significant results. Sunday’s assassination will not stop talks with the insurgency, but it adds yet another question about the viability of negotiations.
“The Taliban want to reconcile, but there are some fundamentalist Taliban members and others who are connected with ISI [the Pakistani intelligence service]. They are the people who attacked Rahmani today,” says Heela Achakzai, a member of Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament. “Unfortunately, the Taliban is not a clear and unified group. There are different people following different orders. That’s why you cannot reach any settlement very soon.”
In March, the Taliban announced that it had suspended talks with the United States and the Afghan government in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the Quran on a US base and the shooting spree by US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in Kandahar.
Though the Taliban has said it is targeting members of the High Peace Council as part of its assassination campaign this summer, the group denied responsibility for Rahmani’s killing. The group also denied responsibility for the killing of Mr. Rabbani last September.
“After this incident we contacted our mujahideen in Kabul. They were not aware of their fighters’ participation in this incident. The Taliban were not involved,” says Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban. “This High Peace Council is working for the government and was made at the request of the Americans. They are following the Americans’ agenda and we will not stop targeting them, but with regard to Rahmani, the mujahideen [Taliban] did not do it.”
A former mujahideen who fought against the Soviets, Rahmani later served as a deputy minister of education for the Taliban regime. Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Rahmani broke with the Taliban movement and decided to support the government of President Hamid Karzai. In addition to serving on the High Peace Council, he was also a member of the upper house of parliament.
As a member of the High Peace Council, Rahmani was a member of the executive committee. The group had also charged Rahmani with negotiating for the release of Taliban prisoners as part of talks.
Many of those on the High Peace Council say that Rahmani’s connections with the Taliban and the respect he garnered as an Islamic scholar proved invaluable for the group’s Tablian outreach efforts.
“He was a well-known religious scholar and had a complete understanding of the Taliban, as well as connections with the Taliban,” says Haji Musa Hotak, a member of the High Peace Council. “Definitely after his loss there will be a decrease in the activities of the HPC and a negative impact on its activities in the future.”
* Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.