Suicide bomber kills former Afghan president
A militant detonated a bomb hidden in his turban as he met the former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani yesterday, killing the man given the task of reconciling with the Taliban and crippling efforts to bring peace to the country.
Two insurgents, feigning an interest in coming in from the cold, met Mr Rabbani at his house in Kabul's diplomatic enclave, close to the site of last week's 20-hour battle between security forces and Taliban-linked militants.
According to initial reports, one of them detonated the explosives hidden in his turban as he hugged Mr Rabbani, killing the politician instantly.
Massoum Stanikzai, President Hamid Karzai's adviser on reconciliation and reintegration - a technocrat seen as the architect of the Afghan government's overtures for peace - was left "alive but badly wounded" by the blast, say police.
When, in 2010, Mr Rabbani was appointed as chairman of the High Peace Council, the reaction from delegates was so ferocious that Mr Rabbani was forced to flee. The Taliban took Mr Rabbani's appointment as a powerful insult, said Michael Semple, one of the leading proponent's of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan.
"They're just so angry that it's difficult to communicate," he said recently. "It's such a wicked move that appointment. Karzai's not stupid ... he knows how hated Rabbani is." Yet there were many who loved him. Ahmed Wali Massoud, brother to the late anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, said: "He has been a great leader, leading the mujahedin resistance, as well as the jihad, for 30 years. He has been huge."
Haroun Mir, an academic and a political analyst in Kabul, said the assassination would be a terrible blow for peace. "People have become disillusioned about this process and the assassination of President Rabbani will make this sentiment much stronger," he said. "But it's also a big setback for Karzai, because President Rabbani was a big supporter of Karzai, and his engagement in this process made it a a national process. His vacuum will not be filled."
Mr Rabbani was a divisive figure in Afghan politics. The frail old man was once one of the country's most notorious warlords, leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami party and the man who helped plunge Afghanistan into the bloodiest phase of its civil war when he refused to relinquish its rotating presidency in 1994. He continued to rule until the Taliban took power in 1996.