Editor's Note: This interview was conducted by Kimberly Abbott, Communications Director for North America at the International Crisis Group.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president and chief government negotiator with the Taliban, was killed in a Kabul bomb blast. Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, analyzes the repercussions for peace talks. The following is a transcript of the Q&A:
This evening, there was news of an explosion in central Kabul, downtown Kabul, in Wazir Akbar Khan, in a neighborhood known for a lot of dignitaries, including Burhanuddin Rabbani who was of course the former president of Afghanistan and the chair of the High Peace Council, who was deeply involved in talks to the Taliban, trying to arrange some sort of reconciliation deal. It appears that he had arranged a meeting, along with his counterpart Minister Stanekzai, with a member of the Quetta Shura who arrived at his house for a very informal meeting and apparently had a bomb strapped underneath his turban, and when he went to shake Rabbani’s hand the bomb went off, and that was that.What was Rabbani's role in negotiating with the Taliban?
Mr. Rabbani, of course, was a towering figure in Afghan history in the sense that he had, like many, survived so much, and for 30 years he had been at the forefront of Afghan politics. He had been the president, of course. He was also very close to many of the front-runners who were part of the opposition running against Karzai during the presidential elections. Last year, he was selected to head the High Peace Council by President Karzai in the hopes that by bringing a Tajik on, that somehow this might bridge the gap between those in the Northern Alliance who believed that the ethnic divisions between the Taliban, who are largely Pashtuns, and non-Pashtuns were too deep to bridge.
The hope was that somehow Rabbani could bring some legitimacy to the process. He was very deeply involved in running the council, going back and forth to different countries trying to broker deals in Iran and Pakistan, and trying to get regional support for the process. In many ways, however, the Council itself is really a symbolic body. It didn’t have a lot of power, and so in some ways Rabbani was taking a risk in endeavoring to be engaged on this issue, because there was no guarantee that this council was really going to deliver the peace deal that was so much hoped for.
Coming on the heals of the attacks last week in Kabul on the U.S. Embassy and ISAF, also following on the news of a possible deal in which the Taliban might get a political office in Qatar, this certainly seems to signal the end or perhaps the paralysis of what was a very shaky peace process. I think that there were a lot of doubters out there as to whether anything could actually be brokered by the High Peace Council. I certainly think that this will frighten a number of members of the Peace Council. I would not be at all surprised to see some of them walk away form this and say they don’t want any part of it. Hopefully, what it will do in the long run will be that it will force policymakers, particularly in the Karzai administration and in the White House, to really reconsider how they are going to go about engaging with the Taliban in the future.
We've now seen two major strikes in Kabul in less than a week. What does this say about the insurgency's capacity and influence?
Its very disturbing and I think for most ordinary Afghans, the effect will be withdrawal from the political process. When you can hit somebody like Rabbani, when you can hit somebody like Ahmed Wali Karzai, when you can assassinate leaders at will, this is a very strong signal that the government does not have the capacity to secure its citizens. These two attacks, coming right on top of each other they way they have, really signal that this government is in no position the begin talks with the Taliban–and in fact, probably should reconsider all of its policies where the Taliban are considered.