High-profile attack is bad news for those who advocate talking to insurgents.
The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the man in charge of talking to the Taleban, has heightened concerns about whether Afghanistan’s nascent peace process has any future.
Rabbani, head of the High Peace Council, was killed at his home in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood on September 20 by an attacker with explosives concealed in his turban. Masum Stanekzai, secretary of the High Peace Council which Rabbani headed, was seriously wounded and a number of others were injured.
The assassination was just the latest in a series of high-profile killings that have taken place over recent months. In July, the president’s brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed, and recent strikes include co-ordinated attacks on the United States embassy and the NATO forces’ headquarters in the capital earlier this month.
The attacks come at a time when international troops are planning for a withdrawal scheduled for 2014.
Rabbani, who headed one of the mujahedin factions fighting the Soviets in the 1980s and was Afghan president during the 1992-96 civil war, was appointed head of the peace council a year ago to lead efforts to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taleban.
Given that he had led the mainly Tajik faction Jamiat-e Islami which had fought the Taleban, there was some controversy over whether he was an appropriate choice to head the negotiating drive.
Advocates of the peace process say Rabbani’s death is a major setback.
“The assassination has made things very complicated,” Faruq Wardak, who is education minister and also sits on the High Peace Council, told reporters. “Now we don’t know who our friend is and who our enemy; whom we can trust and whom we cannot trust; with whom we can reconcile and with whom we cannot.”
Member of parliament Abdol Hafiz Mansur said the killing would definitely slow progress towards peace.
“Rabbani was a religious figure who exerted influence over the region and among religious and mujahedin groups,” he said. “His influence among these groups led the opposition [insurgents] to trust him.”
Political analyst Haroun Mir said Rabbani’s death was a blow to all those who opposed the Taleban and other insurgents.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, another High Peace Council member, said that Rabbani had won credibility at home and abroad.
“Rabbani’s trips to Turkey, Pakistan and Iran produced achievements for the High Peace Council,” she said. “If the work of the High Peace Council hadn’t been effective, delegations from Pakistan including the president and prime minister wouldn’t have come to Afghanistan and proposed a joint peace commission.”
Nuristani said the peace process would not end with the death of one man.
Among ordinary residents of Kabul, reactions to Rabbani’s death varied.
Amruddin, a resident of the Khair Khana district, said that he was sorry to hear that the insurgents had become so powerful that they could kill political leaders inside their own homes.
“It is shameful for the whole government, particularly the security forces, to speak of achievements and successes,” he said. “They sit quietly by and watch as strangers kill off their leaders one by one like chickens.”
While regretting the escalation of violence, Amruddin had personal reasons not to mourn Rabbani’s passing. Like other Kabulis interviewed by IWPR, he recalled Rabbani’s time as president in the early 1990s, when the city was ravaged by warfare involving Jamiat and four other paramilitary factions.
“Our house in Kabul’s old town was destroyed during the factional wars… There was bloodshed and people in Kabul were killed,” Amruddin said. “He did nothing good that would make us feel sorry about his death.”
Others expressed similar sentiments.
“I remember the days when Rabbani was president,” civil servant Shoaib said. “Kabul was looted, and tens of thousands of people were killed in the bloodshed. Rabbani was responsible for all of that – he should have been prosecuted and punished.”
Journalist Yaqub Kohkan, however, argues that the main lesson people should learn from Rabbani’s assassination is in the here and now – Afghans should learn to forget their differences.
“Afghans need to be aware our enemies are very cruel, they exploit divisions among us and show no mercy,” he said. “We must all unite against out enemies.”