Deadly blow

Afghanistan’s nascent peace process has suffered a serious setback with the assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani. Rabbani was chief of the High Peace Council that had been mandated by president Hamid Karzai to engage in negotiations with the Taliban to bring it into the peace process.

His killing will now strengthen the position of those in the Karzai government and outside who have been opposing talks with the Taliban. Karzai must not allow Rabbani’s killing to distract his attention or dilute his commitment towards the reconciliation process. The Afghan president has set out on this controversial peace process. He must stay the course. A new peace council chief must be appointed immediately so that the process does not lose momentum.

Rabbani was killed by someone claiming to be a Taliban intermediary. His successor will have to be more careful in meeting with potential peace brokers. However, he must not allow excessive caution to determine his reaching out to the Taliban. He must not hesitate to take the huge risks that building peace and reconciliation demands.

So far, reintegrating lower-level Taliban fighters and commanders has met with some success. Rabbani’s successor needs to be resolute in his efforts to draw the leaders on board.

The Karzai government must act to plug loopholes in the security that the Taliban are exploiting. There is a shift in the Taliban’s tactics in recent months. If in the past it focused its fire on international forces, in recent months it has been targeting key members of the Karzai government, including his kin and close associates.

It is in this context that the killing of Rabbani must be seen. By eliminating these key personalities, the Taliban hardliners are hoping to weaken the already fragile Karzai government. It is evident that the Taliban is assiduously infiltrating the Afghan security forces, enabling it to strike at supposedly tightly guarded personalities and installations.

In its hurried bid to build a large police and armed force that can take over the security of the country after the exit of the foreign troops, the Afghan government is overlooking background checks of new recruits. This is being exploited by the Taliban. Many of the recent killings and attacks in Kabul could have been prevented if the police and security forces had not been vulnerable to Taliban pressure.

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