But hours later, Burhanuddin Rabbani was dead, killed in his home by the supposed Taliban negotiator whom he had rushed back to Kabul to meet. The assassination claimed the leader of Afghanistan’s fledgling peace council and dealt a powerful blow to hopes that the war can be settled at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield.
Rabbani is just the latest in a series of Afghan leaders who have been killed this year. His death offered a vivid retort from insurgent commanders to suggestions that they should talk with an Afghan government that is rife with dysfunction at a time when foreign troops are starting to pull out.
The attack also became the latest reminder that nearly a decade after U.S. troops helped to topple the Taliban regime in Kabul, the insurgency remains capable of carrying out strikes even in the most fortified sections of the capital.
“The face of the peace initiative has been attacked,” U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement Tuesday night. “This is another indicator that, regardless of what Taliban leadership outside the country say, they do not want peace, but rather war.”
U.S. officials have long said they believe that insurgent leaders are based in Pakistan, and Tuesday’s attack will probably intensify calls for the Pakistani government to take a stronger stand against militants who operate near the border.
The bombing came a week after insurgents armed with grenades, rifles and rockets attacked the U.S. Embassy and nearby installations in Kabul for 20 hours. U.S. officials said the siege was probably carried out by the Haqqani network, a well-trained faction of the Taliban that has been linked to several spectacular attacks in the Afghan capital and that is based in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The attack on Rabbani appears to have succeeded because a trusted former senior Taliban official who reconciled with President Hamid Karzai in 2005 facilitated the meeting, according to Bashir Bezhan, a friend of Rabbani’s.
Rahmatullah Wahidyar, who served as a deputy government minister when the Taliban was in power in the late 1990s and sits on the peace council, had vouched for the assailant, Bezhan said.
“You have to come and meet this guy,” Bezhan said Rabbani was told by associates urging him to return to Kabul.
Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, another senior member of the peace council, accompanied Wahidyar in escorting the supposed Taliban negotiator through the maze of checkpoints, blast walls and gates that lead to Rabbani’s house.