By Anand Gopal

Because of a suicide attacker with a bomb in his turban, Afghanistan’s dim prospects for peace just got dimmer. The assassination of strongman and key historical and present Afghan political figure Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the commission meant to negotiate with the Taliban, the High Peace Council (HPC), signals the massive challenges ahead in efforts to end the war. 

For many in the Afghan government, Rabbani’s appointment to head the HPC was seen as a way to involve the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and in particular, Rabbani’s Jamiat-e-Islami party, in the peace process. Jamiat, which has long been hostile to the Taliban, is an important force in northern Afghanistan, particularly among ethnic Tajiks. But many in the Taliban and in Pakistan met the appointment with derision. As the country’s president in the mid-nineties, Rabbani presided over a brutal civil war that killed thousands and helped spawn the rise of the Taliban movement. In the late 90s, Jamiat was one of the Taliban’s main foes in the latter’s drive to conquer the north. Pakistan, meanwhile, has always viewed the India- and Iran-friendly Rabbani with hostility. 

Rabbani, who likely saw the peace process as a way to re-inject himself into the national political scene, initially took to his duties with alacrity. But it was unclear whether he was pursuing a sort of managed surrender (reintegration) or genuine negotiations. In any event, the lack of progress, hostility from the Taliban side and a spate of assassinations appeared to have turned him against a peace deal. He recently told the Afghan newspaper Hasht-e-Sob that the Taliban are a “catastrophe-creating movement” bent on the destruction of the country. “The Taliban’s acts have defamed religious scholars and this movement calling itself Taliban creates disaster,” he said. “They recruit soldiers among the youth and claim that they are from madrassas.” 

In a stark message on the anniversary of the death of Afghan national hero and slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, he declared that:

“The people are justifying the war they have waged and say that they are fighting the war because of the presence of the foreigners. This is not the case actually. This war was going on prior to the presence of the foreigners here and will continue after the foreigners go from here.”

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Anand Gopal is an independent journalist covering Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the author of the New America Foundation paper “The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 20, 2011.



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