A gunman shot dead a top member of the Afghan peace council yesterday at a traffic intersection in the nation’s capital, police said. The assassination strikes another blow to efforts to negotiate a political resolution to the decade-long war.
Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban official turned Afghan peace negotiator, was in his vehicle when he was killed by an unknown attacker in another vehicle at an intersection in the west part of the city, according to Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police department’s criminal investigation division.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the killing, although they had earlier indicated that they would target peace negotiators.
Rahmani was one of about 70 influential Afghans and former Taliban appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try to reconcile with the insurgents.
The US has backed the council’s efforts to pull the Taliban into political discussions with Kabul as part of its strategy for reducing violence and turning over responsibility to Afghan forces so international combat troops can go home or move into support roles by the end of 2014.
However, this effort suffered a major setback in September last year when former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was head of the peace council, was assassinated by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.
The US has its own contacts with the Taliban, but in March the organization said they were suspending contacts with the US over what they said was a lack of progress in releasing Taliban prisoners from US detention at Guantanamo Bay.
The last substantive discussions between US officials and Taliban representatives were in January, and both initiatives to build trust and move toward real peace talks are in limbo.
On Twitter, the US embassy in Kabul called the assassination of another peace council member “a tragedy.”
Rahmani served as minister of higher education during the Taliban regime. He reconciled with the government established in Kabul after the Taliban’s fall and subsequently served in parliament.
He was also one of several former members of the Taliban who were removed from a UN blacklist in July last year. The decision by a UN committee eliminated a travel ban and an assets freeze against Rahmani and the others — a move seen as key to promoting the peace effort.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that his group had nothing to do with Rahmani’s assassination.
When they announced the start of their annual “spring offensive” earlier this month, the Taliban said that members of the peace council — who they view as government collaborators — would be among their primary targets.
In other developments, men wearing Afghan police uniforms shot dead two NATO service members on Saturday in southern Afghanistan, authorities said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence has confirmed the two were British.
The ministry says the soldiers were shot by members of the Afghan Police Force when the soldiers were providing security for a meeting with local officials in the Helmand Province.
Two other coalition service members also died on Saturday. A roadside bomb killed one, while the other died of non-battle related injuries. So far this month, 18 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan.