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Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Afghan High Peace Council tasked with negotiating a peace settlement with the Taliban insurgency, was assassinated in his home in the heavily guarded diplomatic enclave in Kabul. The killer, escorted into Rabbani’s home by two council members who insisted that he did not need to be fully searched, had a bomb concealed in his turban. When Rabbani appeared, the killer detonated the bomb, killing Rabbani and seriously wounding Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, another integral player in the peace process. A peace process that has been dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow.
Rabbani had been president of Afghanistan prior to the emergence of the Taliban government, having been a leader of a formidable mujahideen resistance group that fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. He became president of the country in 1992, and ruled until 1996, when the Taliban assumed power and ousted him. He went into exile and became a leader of the Northern Alliance, which continued to fight against the Taliban until the United States deposed the terrorist-harboring government in 2001. Since the Taliban had never gained international recognition, it was Rabbani who, in a critical show of support, formally handed the government over to Hamid Karzai in 2002. That support helped gain Mr. Karzai a second term in 2009. Mr. Rabbani was an ethnic Tajik, Afghanistan’s second largest ethnic group, while Mr. Karzai is a Pashtun, the country’s largest ethnic group.
Ethnic rivalries play a large part in Afghan politics, and while Karzai had been supported by Rabbani, his death might engender a high level of resentment among senior members of the mostly Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance, who already harbor suspicions that president Karzai has been colluding with the Taliban. Mr. Rabbani’s death is also likely to exacerbate other regional and ethnic rivalries, much of which fuels the Taliban insurgency. Many of those minorities, fearful of any reconciliation with the Taliban, have begun re-arming themselves, raising the distinct possibility that civil war will break out in 2014, when U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country.
President Karzai, who was at the United Nations General Assembly with Barack Obama at the time of the assassination, termed the killing an “act of brutality and cowardice,” saying Rabbani sacrificed his life for Afghanistan’s peace. “The mission Rabbani had undertaken was vital for the Afghan people and for the country”s security and peace,” Karzai explained. “I don’t think that we can fill his place easily. He was one of the few people in Afghanistan with the distinction that we cannot easily find in societies. But this will not deter us from continuing on the path that we have and we will definitely succeed.”
President Obama called the High Peace Council leader’s death a “tragic loss,” but vowed that both he and Mr. Karzai “will not be deterred from creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom and safety and security and prosperity, and … it is going to be important to continue the efforts to bring all elements of Afghan society together to end what has been a senseless cycle of violence.”
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