What Does Rabbani’s Assassination Mean?

by Ahmad Majidyar

Suicide bombers on Tuesday evening assassinated Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and the chairman of the High Peace Council, at his residence in a high security area just 100 meters from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Masoom Stanekzai, President Karzai’s key strategist for reconciliation efforts, was also seriously injured. The attack came just a week after Taliban militants launched a complex raid on the U.S. embassy, NATO headquarters, and police stations, which paralyzed the Afghan capital for 20 hours and killed more than two dozen people.

The recent spike in Taliban violence and assassinations of senior Afghan leaders has called into question both the terrorist group’s willingness for a negotiated settlement and the Afghan government’s readiness to assume security responsibilities as foreign troops withdraw. Kabul was among the seven areas that transitioned to an Afghan security lead last July.

Afghan officials say that Rabbani and Stanekzai were holding a “peace meeting” with two insurgent commanders when a bomber — most probably one of the visitors — detonated explosives hidden in his turban.

Karzai, who is in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly and was scheduled to meet President Obama to discuss a strategic agreement between Kabul and Washington, has cut his trip short to return to Kabul.

Almost a year ago, Karzai set up the council to start peace talks with the Taliban, but the council has made little headway. The Taliban leadership has rejected negotiations and responded with violence to Kabul’s gestures and one-sided concessions, such as release of prisoners and offer of senior positions in the government. Frustrated by Taliban’s refusal to enter talks, Rabbani had recently changed his soft tone and accused the Taliban of defaming Islam and using children for suicide attacks.

Rabbani was leader of Jamiat-e Islami, the second largest mujahedeen group that fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, and served as president from 1992 until the Taliban captured Kabul four years later. He then led the Northern Alliance, a coalition of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and some Pashtuns, against the Taliban until late 2001.  

His killing is the latest in a series of assassinations of key Afghan leaders by the Taliban in recent months, such as Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, and Gen. Daud Daud, the police chief for northern Afghanistan and a prominent member of the Northern Alliance.

Today’s assassinations will increase resentment and anxiety among other Northern Alliance leaders who oppose political deals with the Taliban and accuse Karzai of cozying up to the terrorists. Ethnic minorities in the north and central Afghanistan have already begun rearming as Kabul and Washington have stepped up efforts to make a compromise with the Taliban to end the war. Rabbani’s death is likely to widen ethnic divides in Afghanistan and hasten rearming efforts that could trigger a civil war once the foreign troops leave the country by 2014. It is time for Kabul and Washington to abandon the illusion of making peace with the Taliban and instead focus on uniting the Afghans to defeat the Taliban and their foreign terrorist supporters.  

— Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.

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