The son of a former Afghan peace council chairman assassinated last fall by a suicide bomber has been chosen as his successor in a renewed push to revitalize efforts to negotiate an end to the decade-long war.
The Saturday election of Salahuddin Rabbani came on the same day that the government-appointed peace council held talks in Kabul with a delegation from Hizb-i-Islami, one of three major militant factions that are instrumental to crafting a peaceful end to the conflict as US and other foreign troops leave.
Part of the US-led coalition’s exit strategy is to gradually transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 when most international troops will have left or moved into support roles. Another goal is to pull the Taliban and other groups into political discussions with the Afghan government.
The 70-plus members of the Afghan High Peace Council chose Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik and former ambassador to Turkey, to lead the group, according to a statement released by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office. Rabbani is the son of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed on Sept. 20 last year at his Kabul home by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace emissary.
The assassination dealt a major blow to the peace effort and the election of the younger Rabbani nearly seven months later was a clear signal of the Afghan government’s desire to continue efforts to reconcile with the Taliban.
After the elder Rabbani’s death, Karzai called on Pakistan, where insurgent leaders are said to be based, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Afghan leader also said peace talks should be led by Afghanistan and that interference from other nations would not be tolerated.
“The peace process can be successful only if Afghans are in the lead,” the new peace council chairman said in the statement. “Otherwise, we cannot achieve things, and we cannot gain the trust of the nation.”
Members of his council met with a five-member delegation from Hizb-i-Islami and will hold other meetings in coming days with Karzai and his two vice presidents, the president’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said on Saturday.
“They have come to Kabul with a list of demands, but this is just the beginning of discussions, and we cannot reach a conclusion about the talks at this time,” Faizi said.
Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that has thousands of fighters and followers across the north and east. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former Afghan prime minister and one-time US ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington. The delegation is led by Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Ghairat Baheer.
The first official Hizb-i-Islami delegation held talks with the Afghan government in February 2010 and presented a 15-point peace plan, according to the group’s European representative, Qaribur Rahman Saeed. Then, in December last year, at the request of the US, a Hizb-i-Islami delegation went to Kabul and met with US, Afghan, NATO, military coalition officials and Karzai, Saeed said.