The assassination of former Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani on Tuesday may seem like yet another tragic blip on an overactive radar. But his death in the heart of Kabul's high-security diplomatic district has already sent out seismic ripples whose effects will be felt far and wide both in terms of geography and time. Rabbani's appointment as the head of the council by President Hamid Karzai last October was to reach out to the Taliban and broker a much-needed ceasefire, if not the cessation of a war that predates the US-led war in Afghanistan in retaliation to 9/11. The choice of Rabbani for this job was always controversial. He was a key part of the mujahideen forces that fought the Soviets and then, as part of a rotational deal brokered in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, became the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance's presidential face between 1992 and 1996 of a Pashtun-majority State wracked by internecine war. The rise of the Taliban in those anarchic 'Rabbani years' saw the Tajik leader become the nominal Northern Alliance leader in 'opposition' to the Pakistan-installed Taliban government in Kabul. But the assassination on September 9, 2001 of Northern Alliance military leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who served as defence minister in Rabbani's government, marked the real blow to anti-Taliban forces within Afghanistan. Even if post-9/11 saw the weakening of the Taliban, a lack of serious table talk between Mr Karzai's regime and the Taliban leadership led to what, in hindsight, could be described as a missed opportunity.
Rabbani's nomination by Mr Karzai to deal with the resurgent Taliban was based on the former's seniority as well as his relative success in keeping regional and ethnic rivalries in check. It's true that the former president was listened to by the various squabbling factions after Mr Karzai started ruling Kabul, if not Afghanistan. But the apocryphal 'good Taliban' and 'bad Taliban' may have found a common adversary in Rabbani. The signal given out on Tuesday was that they were not interested in negotiating with the US-appointed Karzai government.
The death of Rabbani underlines the revival of the Taliban that has been incrementally evident for a while now. At a time when the US is charting out its military departure policy in Afghanistan, the country's continuing implosion is a portal to full-blown Af-Pak chaos. If the nature of a crime can be gauged through its motive, apart from the obvious advantage Rabbani's death provides to the Taliban, the further weakening of
Mr Karzai's regime shouldn't displease their sponsors in Rawalpindi. The Taliban's policy of digging their heels in comes from a sense of growing influence in which power-sharing makes little sense. One way in which to deal with the current Afghan situation is to avoid the flawed models provided during the failed United Nations-sponsored mediations during 1992-2001 when external political and security mechanisms (read: Pakistan) were not firmly dealt with to support intra-Afghan accords. For the sake of South Asia's regional stability, the international community, including New Delhi, should realise that talking through filters to the Taliban leadership may not be the best way out, but it could be the only way forward.