The Rabbani Assassination and a Way Forward for Obama in Afghanistan

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani
the former president of Afghanistan, high-ranking religious scholar and the official in charge of government peace talks with the Taliban, took place a few days after the Taliban's attack on the American Embassy in Kabul, an attack the U.S. suspects has links to Pakistan.

The suicide attack against Rabbani is perhaps the most brazen one after the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud (the anti-Taliban commandant and de facto leader of the "Northern Alliance") for which Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. According to the Guardian: "Abdullah Abdullah, the country's leading opposition figure, said the death of Rabbani showed the insurgents were trying to wipe out the political figures who ruled the country before the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s."

The murder of Rabbani, responsibility for which has been claimed by the Taliban, comes in the midst of an endless series of attacks that will doubtless continue both inside and outside of Afghanistan. This is because the suicide attacks are actually only the poisonous spiders born from the rancid womb of the fundamentalist subculture of the Taliban where every ethnic, political or religious diversity is a priori excluded. Those who work for security and stability in Afghanistan and in the region cannot forget certain basic points:

  1. The Taliban have once again demonstrated their belief in terrorism as political strategy. Amrullah Saleh, the young successor of Ahmad Shah Massoud, stated: "The killing of Rabbani, who had devoted his life to serving Afghanistan and to peace, once again reminds us that reconciliation cannot be possible from a position of weakness but strength only... It is time for us to unite for change and for defeat of the Taliban." In this framework, it remains clear there could still be some room for "negotiation" with the Taliban, as there often is in time of war, in an effort to limit or circumscribe their control of those regions where they would probably secure a majority in a freely elected Afghan federation.

    With the assassination of various anti Taliban figures (Seyyed Khili, Dawod Dawod and others) and an esteemed moderate personality like Rabbani, the Taliban are demonstrating they have no desire for national reconciliation. Taliban suppression of northern proponents of the Karzai regime's desire for national reconciliation is a clear attempt to terrorize the population and force international coalition troops to withdraw. Their aim may be to create a power vacuum as in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which allowed local jihadi groups to flourish
    and sustain jihadi organizations worldwide
    guided by the same ethos as al-Qaeda. After seizing power in Afghanistan, the Taliban, as the regional political arm of al-Qaeda, would plan extensions of "the mission" via suicide attacks well beyond the Afghan borders, financed by drug and arms smuggling. Under al-Qaeda's direction, they would thus re-commence worldwide action.

  2. The Taliban is actually a galaxy of groups, trends, armed gangs and smugglers, as well as some religious zealots. A large part of the movement is composed of local elements and representatives without any real influence on final decision-making, while Hekmat yar's group (Hezb -e- Eslami) seems to be searching for a deal. Yet the two major known Taliban groups (intimately linked, but de facto independent) -- the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura
    are considered to be the geopolitical tool of Pakistan.

    Through support of terrorism, Pakistan seeks strategic depth within Afghan territory, as always for a possible confrontation with India, which refuses to recognize the independence of Kashmir. At least part of the Pakistani Army and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) shapes, controls and defines the guidelines and action plans of the Taliban and al-Qaeda (Bin Ladin was hidden in Abbotabad near a major Pakistani military basis). This becomes possible with the financial and ideological support of certain circles within Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. An unofficial Saudi-Pakistani axis gives sustenance to all souls sympathetic to al-Qaeda, which is linked to the deepest soul of Arab-Islamic societies that remain unable to undertake democratic reform.

  3. It is said there could not be a military solution in Afghanistan. Bob Woodward had talked of a "diplomatic settlement" and indeed it seems the only way to proceed. It should actually be the task of the Afghanis themselves and the other peoples of the region to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda and defend their own rights and dignity. To turn the tide against the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has pursued a three-pillared strategy. First, it has used both carrots and sticks to secure Pakistan's cooperation; second, it has sought to bolster Afghan government institutions; and, third, it has embarked on a military surge to defeat the Taliban. Now, an anti-Taliban constituency must be formed within Afghanistan -- a policy some might describe, only half-humorously, as "surge, bribe, leave".
  4. Obama's plan seems realistic and has support because it is impossible economically and politically to carry on an unending, borderless war without a clear strategy. Still, this might not be sufficient, because the negotiations are not dealing with the festering womb that is the unofficial Saudi-Pakistani axis, the source for the poison feeding and financing the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their ilk.


    In order to end or at least significantly reduce jihadist suicide attacks, the womb that gives them birth must be dealt with. This will be possible only by instituting justice that is not merely punitive but also distributive and egalitarian, and by demanding democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia and its cohort of similar countries. In fact, it is absurd to negotiate with the very group one has defined as "terrorists" after ten years of war and $10 billions spent in war against them.

    There must be negotiations with the Pakistani Army and with the Saudi royal court in order to reinforce support for the Pakistani civilian government and civil society that sincerely seeks an end to the activity of jidahist groups and to the Taliban as political force.