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Hopes of peace in Afghanistan may have died with Rabbani

September 21, 2011 09:07 IST

Tahir Ali examines the consequences of the assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani on attempts to broker peace in Afghanistan

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghanistan president and the head of the High Peace Council, in a suicide attack on Tuesday is a blow to peace efforts in the war-torn country.

With this attack the Mullah Omer-led Taliban have sent out a clear message that they are not interested at any kind of talks with the United States-backed Hamid Karzai government.

The Taliban proudly claimed the killing, stating that they first won the confidence of the former president in the name of 'peace talks' and then targetted him. It appears now that there is no political end to the Afghan problem.

Rabbani's killing could create unrest, especially in the northern part of the country. There are some pockets of Pashtun in the northern provinces who are already complaining that they are treated as aliens. Rabbani's death may aggravate new ethnic conflicts.

Born to a Tajik family in Badakhshan, a northern province of Afghanistan, in 1940, Rabbani took his first plunge into politics during his student life. A religious-minded person, he later taught Islamic law at the Kabul University and led an activist group Jamiat-e-Islami, also known as Islamic Society.

He fled to Pakistan in 1974 when he realised that the conditions in Afghanistan were not conducive for his ideologies. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Rabbani started preparations for jihad with the help of Pakistan and the United States.

He succeeded to form a network of mujahideen and his men fought bravely against the Russian forces. In 1991, when the Communist-backed regime ended in Afghanistan he became Afghan President. However, his tenure witnessed several ethnic wars.

In 1996, the Mullah Omer-led Taliban faction emerged and invaded Kabul, and threw out Rabbani's government.

For almost five years since then, Rabbani was a commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliances; he reappeared when the Northern Alliances took control over Kabul following the 9/11 attacks. Rabbani later joined the Hamid Karzai government.

In October 2010, President Hamid Karzai appointed Rabbani as the head of the High Peace Council. His appointment was a surprise to many; the Pashtun-dominated Taliban opposed him owing to his Tajik ethnicity.

According to Waqas Shah, a Pashtun journalist, "Rabbani was important for the peace process in Afghanistan; his past might be anti-Taliban, but currently he was doing a sincere job in negotiations. His ambition was to restore peace in the country."

Rabbani was not very popular in Pakistan, as he often blamed Islamabad for not taking interest in the peace process of Afghanistan.

In a recent interview, he blamed Pakistan for supporting Taliban and said, "We in Afghanistan feel that Pakistan still supports the Taliban and several Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan. Pakistan can encourage them to come to the negotiating table. Allowing the Afghan opposition to live in the country is against the spirit of bilateral friendship."


Tahir Ali