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Afghan leader Rabbani’s assassination would derail the peace process in Afghanistan

 By Syed Nazakat 

In a country devastated by decades of war, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani was the most prominent peace negotiator. The formerAfghanistanpresident and the head of the High Peace Council was always willing to bridge the divide and find a way for reconciliation. He initiated a series of talks with tribal leaders and travelled to neighbouring countries to seek their help in the peace process. A suicide bomber, with the weapon tucked in his turban, ended Rabbani’s quest for peace at hisKabulhouse on September 20. 

Rabbani’s attempts were disliked by the Taliban who kept a distance from the High Peace Council. However, after he was appointed by President Hamid Karzai as the head of the HPC in 2010, Rabbani held secret talks with many Taliban leaders. He even managed to convince many insurgents to leave arms. When this correspondent met him inKabullast December, he said direct talks with the Taliban were the only way to end the war. 

In July, Rabbani visitedPakistanand, in a surprise move,India. He wanted support for the peace talks. He called on the clergy of the Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh. Many Taliban leaders have studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqaniya at Akora Khattak inPakistan. “After King Zahir Shah, he was the most prominent Afghan leader to visit the Dar-ul-Uloom,” said Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, former vice-chancellor, Deoband. 

Born in 1940 in the northern  Afghan province of Badakhshan, Rabbani started his political career while teaching Islamic law atKabulUniversityin the 1960s. Later he became a Jamaat-e-Islami leader. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistanin 1979, he recruited men and united different groups with the help of the US and Pakistan. These groups played an important role in ousting the Soviets in 1991. Rabbani was Afghanistan president for a brief period before the civil war engulfed the country. He was often blamed for the killings and destruction in the civil war.

Rabbani’s assassination raises questions about the future of President Karzai’s peace negotiations and the ability of the Afghan security forces. Karzai, who was inNew Yorkfor a UN summit, shortened his trip to return home. His brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was Kandahar governor, was assassinated in July and close aide Jan Mohammad Khan was killed in the same month by the Taliban. 

Rabbani’s assassination is bad news forIndia. He was close toIndiaand during the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001 he soughtNew Delhi’s support to fight the militia.Indiahad expressed its support for the Afghan reconciliation when he visited in July. “I fondly recall my meetings with him when he had shared his vision of a harmonious and prosperousAfghanistan. Tragically, the forces of terror and hatred have silenced yet another powerful voice of reason and peace inAfghanistan,” said External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. 

Rabbani might have been a pragmatist who saw talks and reconciliation as a way to secure his position in the post-USAfghanistan. But his efforts were important in a country where peace is as elusive as peacemakers.  

(2 Oct, 2011, THE WEEK)

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