An assassin with explosives hidden in his turban was ushered into the home of the head of Afghanistan’s peace process on Tuesday, embraced him and then exploded the bomb, killing him and dealing a potentially devastating blow to the effort to reconcile with the Taliban and end 10 years of war.
The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and a former president, underscored the fierce opposition of those who want to shatter the country’s tenuous stability and thwart its tentative steps toward peace.
Without the 71-year-old Rabbani, it will be exceedingly difficult to move the peace process forward. A complex figure, he was nonetheless one of the few with the stature to persuade the Taliban’s enemies, the former Northern Alliance, to embark on reconciliation discussions.
Western diplomats said that recently Rabbani had begun discussions with some Taliban members who might have the power to engage in real negotiations. A number of previous contacts had proved to be with impostors or figures who had little authority.
Within hours of the killing, Northern Alliance leaders, most of whom are ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras, were on television, denouncing the peace process and saying that the Taliban could not be trusted. The Taliban are predominantly ethnic Pashtuns.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a former presidential candidate and Northern Alliance leader, summed up the sentiments heard from many Northern Alliance figures in the wake of the assassination: “This is a lesson for all of us that we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this group, who has carried out so many crimes against the people of Afghanistan, are willing to make peace.”
He added: “We have to be realistic about what we are up against. We are up against people who don’t believe in any humanity. They kill people on the streets, they assassinate those trying to achieve peace.”