- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Taliban suicide bomber with explosives hidden in his turban killed a former Afghan president who headed a government council seeking peace with Taliban militants.

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani on Tuesday is a serious blow to the reconciliation effort that had the support of both the U.S. and the Afghan governments.

Sources in Kabul confirmed that Mr. Rabbani was killed in an explosion at his home while meeting two men posing as Taliban peace emissaries.

Mohammed Massoum Stanekzai, a senior adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was seriously injured in the attack.

The suicide bomber concealed explosives in his turban to carry out the attack, according to an Afghan official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The assassin detonated the explosives as he bowed to greet Mr. Rabbani in his home in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, near the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, which came under terrorist attacks last week.

The Afghan official said a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Mr. Rabbani’s death will “certainly slow down the peace initiative and efforts of the government, as well as impact on the transition process, an integral part of which is reconciliation with the Taliban,” said Ashraf Haidari, deputy assistant national security adviser in the Karzai administration.

Mr. Rabbani, 71, served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until the Taliban seized power in 1996. The United States overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001 after it insisted on sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

In 2010, Mr. Karzai appointed Mr. Rabbani as head of the High Peace Council to conduct peace talks with the Taliban. The council has not made any significant breakthroughs.

Mr. Karzai has said he will talk only to members of the Taliban who renounce violence, cut ties to al Qaeda and embrace the Afghan Constitution. The Obama administration has endorsed his position.

Mr. Karzai cut short his visit to New York and returned to Kabul after meeting with President Obama at the United Nations.

Mr. Karzai described Mr. Rabbani’s death as a “tragic loss” and said it “will not deter us from continuing on the path that we have, and we’ll definitely succeed.”

“This is a hard day for us in Afghanistan, but a day of unity and a day of continuity of our efforts,” he added.

Mr. Obama also said Mr. Rabbani’s death would not derail efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.

“It is going to be important to continue the efforts to bring all elements of Afghan society together to end what has been a senseless cycle of violence,” Mr. Obama said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States will help the Afghan government bring the attackers to justice and increase pressure on al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“We have always known that there are those who will do all they can to undermine the cause of peace and reconciliation. We will see more violence before this is over,” she said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the assassination was an “attack on the Afghan people.”

“To those who offer only death and destruction to the Afghan people, our message is clear: You will not prevail,” he added.

Mr. Rabbani, a Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance who had fought the predominantly Pashtun Taliban, was viewed with suspicion by some Taliban leaders.

Several Afghan and international human rights groups had implicated him in war crimes.

The Taliban has been weakened largely because it has been pushed out of its strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Last week, militants were involved in a 20-hour gunbattle near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Mr. Karzai has suffered personal losses in other recent attacks.

On July 12, Mr. Karzai’s half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, the top official in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, was fatally shot by a trusted bodyguard.

A few days later, gunmen killed Jan Mohammed Khan, a close adviser to the president in Kabul.

Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the assassination was a “terrible attack on the prospect of any peace process.”

“The killing of the head of the peace commission is a direct attack on the political process in Afghanistan,” Mr. Semple said, adding that it was always clear that there would be spoilers.

“It leaves the question of whether there is space for Afghans to do politics,” he said.

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