A setback for peace

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, chairman of the Afghan government’s peace council, is widely being seen as a major blow to the negotiations with the Taleban to end violence in that country. The third killing of a significant administration figure since May, it has certainly been characterized as significant jolt to the Obama administration’s drive to find a face-saving settlement before US troops begin to disengage from the country.

Rabbani’s slaying, was tragic and despicable. The fact is there was little love lost between Rabbani and the Taleban, who first ousted him from power in 1996 and were in turn overthrown by him as a senior figure in the Northern Alliance. On the face of it, he was the last man who might be expected to lead negotiations for a deal that would bring the Taleban into the political process. Yet the 71-year-old politician had the experience and political savvy to talk to the insurgents in terms that they could understand. Moreover, while everything else may be uncertain about Afghanistan, it is a country where virtually everyone is heartily sick of the bloodletting that has raged since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Rabbani was a man to cut a deal with his bitter enemies, because each side in the talks started with no illusions about the others.

There are strong grounds for suspecting his murder was organized by the Haqqani network who were behind last week’s assault in central Kabul. This organization, reportedly with its shadowy support base in Pakistan deplores any negotiations by the mainstream Taleban.In the short term, President Hamid Karzai may find himself besieged by warlords from the north of the country, many of whom came quickly to pay their respects at Rabbani’s home where he was slain. They will repeat that they never believed talking to the Taleban would succeed because they could never be trusted.

Karzai should resist such counsel and move quickly to appoint a new head of the peace council. Delay will indicate to moderates in the Taleban that the government is not serious about negotiations. Nor should the Americans despair that peace talks will come to an abrupt end with the death of Rabbani. In truth, the murdered politician was yesterday’s man who had spent his life grappling for power. A younger, fresher face across the table from the Taleban would have a stronger chance of inching the insurgents toward the peace for which the country at large so desperately longs. The fact that the Taleban and the government have a common enemy in the Haqqani should aid that process.

The Taleban simply have to be part of a political solution. Ever since the Soviets tried to make a puppet state out of what they so arrogantly considered their backyard, history has shown that there is no military victory to be had. Whoever holds power in Kabul and the main cities must face an insurgency beyond them in a mountainous country, custom-made for prolonged revolt and resistance. Peace simply cannot therefore come out of the barrel of a gun. – Arabnews