Burhanuddin Rabbani

Article excerpt

Politician who led Afghanistan's High Peace Council and served as president

Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber at his home in Kabul, was at the forefront of politics during some of the most turbulent years in Afghanistan's history. A former president of the country, he had recently been appointed head of the High Peace Council, which was established to work towards a political solution to the decade-long war alongside members of the Taliban who were willing to renounce violence and work within the new constitution. "His martyrdom is an expression of his ultimate sacrifice to restore harmony in this country," the HPC said. His murder dampened hopes of furthering peace negotiations with Taliban insurgents and will also hamper efforts to keep in check regional and ethnic rivalries, which feed the insurgency.

Rabbani had been the leader of a powerful mujahideen group that had fought against the Soviet Union. He served as Afghanistan's president from 1992 to 1996, when he was deposed following the Taliban take-over of the country. Although seen by many as a controversial figure, Rabbani was nevertheless seen as one of the country's cleverest and most influential politicians and as such was a pragmatist who viewed engagement in the reconciliation process as a way of securing his position, and that of his Northern Alliance, in a post-US Afghanistan.

Rabbani's assassination was the latest and most high-profile in a series of killings of senior politicians and security commanders in recent months, and perhaps the most significant since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. In July, President Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Karzai was killed at home in Kandahar by his own head of security. Two months earlier, General Daud Daud, the highest-ranking police commander in northern Afghanistan, died in a suicide bomb attack. The latest attack, in Kabul's supposedly secure diplomatic zone, highlighted the Taliban's daring and reinforced their claim that no one was safe wherever they may be. The attack came in the wake of a day-time assault by insurgents on the US Embassy and Nato headquarters that deepened a sense of insecurity in the capital.

Burhanuddin Rabbani was born in the largely Tajik town of Faizabad, on the Kokcha River in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, in 1940. Upon finishing school, he attended a religious school in the capital, Kabul, before enrolling at the university where he studied Islamic Law and Theology. Soon after graduating in 1963 he was employed in the law department, where he became known as an outspoken critic of the secular reforms of King Zahir Shah's regime.

In 1968, Rabbani completed a Masters degree in Islamic philosophy at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He then returned to Afghanistan, where the High Council of the Jamiat-e Islami party, a radical Islamist movement, gave him the task of organising students to campaign against the government's secularisation policies. By 1972 he was the party's leader but fled to Pakistan in 1974 when the government sought to arrest him.

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Rabbani became a key figure in the Mujahideen, guerrilla fighters who fought the Soviet-backed government; according to analysts, the work done by Rabbani in the universities had already led to the setting-up of many of the Islamic groups which later became the Mujahideen. …