Top Afghan peace negotiator shot dead in Kabul

Mon, May 14, 2012, 01:00

KABUL – Gunmen shot dead a top Afghan peace negotiator in the capital Kabul yesterday, dealing another blow to the countrys attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.

Maulvi Arsala Rahmani (68) was one of the most senior and important members on Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, set up by President Hamid Karzai two years ago to liaise with the insurgents.

“He (Rahmani) was stuck in heavy traffic when another car beside him opened fire,” said Gen Mohammad Zahir, head of Kabul police’s investigation unit. No suspect was arrested.

Rahmani was shot at an intersection in western Kabul by a gunman in a white Toyota Corolla while being driven to his office, said Gen Zahir. He did not have a bodyguard with him at the time.

The Taliban denied involvement in the killing of Rahmani, a defector from the movement who retained strong ties to it.

“Others are involved in this,” the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said, adding: “We don’t believe it’s a big blow to peace efforts because the peace council has achieved nothing.”

Rahmani, a frail man from Paktika province with a wispy black beard and thick glasses, was on his way to meet parliamentarians and other officials in a government-run media centre in the heavily barricaded diplomatic centre of Kabul when he was shot.

“Rahmani’s killing is a huge loss for Afghanistan but will not deter us from our efforts for lasting peace,” Mr Karzai’s chief spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told a press briefing.

Nato forces fighting in Afghanistan and the US embassy in Kabul also condemned Rahmanis assassination.

The 70-member High Peace Council appears to have made little progress in negotiating with the Taliban to end a war now in its 11th year.

Its head, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated by a suicide bomber last September.

He was recently replaced by his son Salahuddin, although analysts say the council is ineffective or even dysfunctional. Last month a suicide bomber killed the head of a regional peace council in the eastern province of Kunar.

Mr Rahmani told reporters at the start of the year that he was optimistic that secret peace talks with the Taliban had a good chance of success, and that the Taliban were ready to moderate their fundamentalist positions.

US diplomats have separately engaged the Taliban in secret discussions abroad leading to an agreement on the establishment of a Taliban office in the Gulf state of Qatar, though the Taliban later suspended the talks, accusing Washington of ignoring their demands. Fear is mounting among locals and foreign governments that Afghanistan could be engulfed in turmoil after the pullout of Nato combat troops by the end of 2014 and national elections the same year.

The government officially announced the third of five phases of security transfer from Nato to Afghan forces yesterday, comprising 230 districts and the centres of all provincial capitals, including the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. – (Reuters, PA)