Remembering Rabbani

Published: November 20, 2011
On the evening of September 20, 2011, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber whom he thought had come to discuss the possibility of peace. In life, Rabbani was a soldier and a statesman, a warrior as well as a peacemaker and in death, he is a symbol of the cost of the long struggle to restore peace to this war-torn land. His son Shuja Rabbani remembers the man he was and his vision for Afghanistan.

On the evening of September 20, 2011, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber whom he thought had come to discuss the possibility of peace. In life, Rabbani was a soldier and a statesman, a warrior as well as a peacemaker and in death, he is a symbol of the cost of the long struggle to restore peace to this war-torn land. His son Shuja Rabbani remembers the man he was and his vision for Afghanistan.

On the evening of September 20, 2011, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber whom he thought had come to discuss the possibility of peace. In life, Rabbani was a soldier and a statesman, a warrior as well as a peacemaker and in death, he is a symbol of the cost of the long struggle to restore peace to this war-torn land. His son Shuja Rabbani remembers the man he was and his vision for Afghanistan.

Q. What was it like having Burhanuddin Rabbani as your father? What sort of a man was he?

Burhanuddin Rabbani was the type of father who was always there for his children and while he would guide and advise us, he always let us make our own decisions. He was the type of man who led by example, an intellectual who was very logical in his approach and a person who fought for what he believed in. He staunchly believed that the Afghan people should be empowered through knowledge and education. Many of Afghanistan’s political leaders’ foundations come from my father’s political party and that is clear evidence that his method of empowerment and inclusion works very well for Afghanistan. He was a very good- natured man who never lost his cool, anyone who knows him would tell you that he was an extremely down-to-earth person.

Q. What was his vision for Afghanistan?

He wanted to see an Afghanistan where people are not running away from their country and where every child is schooled and made familiar with Afghan history, culture, and national identity. Being an Islamic scholar, he wanted a moderate Muslim state with full religious freedoms for Afghans, not one where Shias and other minorities are being slaughtered the way they are under the Taliban.

Q. Your father’s tenure as president was marked by instability and factional fighting. There were also allegations of widespread corruption. What did he say about that and what are your views? 

The infighting was a result of some rogue power-hungry Afghans who tried to take over Afghanistan through violent means. Unfortunately, because of these rogue Afghans, all Mujahedeen have been lumped in one category and are blamed by critics for everything under the sun that has gone wrong. The Mujahideen are the pride of Afghans and I am proud of being the son of a Mujahideen leader.

As far as corruption goes, billions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan today and enormous assistance of all kinds is given by the international community — yet, corruption is rampant. The Afghanistan my father was heading was far more crippled — systems and processes were not even given a chance to be put in place due to the civil war caused by rogue Afghan elements serving the interest of others.

I hate to break it to my fellow Afghans, but even some expatriate Afghans who are citizens of developed countries currently working as ministers and in other positions of power, and who one would think would set examples, are actively engaged in corruption. Elimination of corruption is an enormous challenge and we must not forget that it existed in all previous leaderships too — critics of post-Soviet leaders never mention that. My message to Afghans is to stop focusing on the problem and start providing solutions to make things better and move forward.

Q. Your father witnessed the pre-soviet period, the Afghan war and its aftermath, as well as the post-9/11 period. What did he tell you of those times?

My father once said that if it was not for the Mujahedeen, Afghans would be speaking Russian today. He could not have been more right. When people talk about Afghanistan before the fighting broke out they make Afghanistan, and Kabul in particular, seem like it was another Paris or New York. That was not the case. Freedom came only to those who decided to embrace atheism through Communism. The rest lived under subjugation and tyranny.  My father, along with other Mujahedeen, decided not to accept Communism or to be enslaved by Communists. All atheists are not Communists but in Afghanistan, all Communists were atheists and they killed countless people in the most barbaric ways imaginable and enforced atheism on everyone through their propaganda. One of the incidents I heard from one of the women who attended my father’s funeral services was about her husband. Some Afghan Communists had snitched to the Soviets that he was a believer and they drove nails into his eyeballs. Other cases involve public beheadings of Afghan Muslims with chainsaws and driving over people with Soviet tanks. These very same Communists of yesterday are now wooing the West by claiming to be “democracy-loving people”, “human rights activists”, “women’s rights activists”, “secularists” and so on. The Afghan people and our youth must not let themselves be deceived by such people, who have their own set of agendas. It is just as important for the international community to recognise the true colours of such political chameleons. The most notable ones are Malalai Joya, a former MP, and her aunt Bilqees Roshan who is currently serving as a Senator in Afghanistan.

Q. You’ve spoken about the extremism of the Communists, but with the rise of the Taliban, Afghanistan saw another kind of extremism, this time garbed in religion.

Islam in Afghanistan is a way of life. It is a part of our culture and identity, and that is what the Mujahedeen fought for: to have an Afghanistan that has a strong sense of values, morals and principles. Afghanistan has witnessed both extremes: atheism through Communists as well as extremist religious beliefs through the Taliban — both were rejected by Afghanistan. It is therefore clear that Afghanistan will never accept extremists on either side of the spectrum and there has to be a middle ground. The Communists fought to force women to take off their burqas and the Taliban fight to force women to wear them. What we should be fighting for is for women to have a choice of their own as individuals.

Q. But following your father’s death that middle ground seems even further away, and there are fears of increased fighting and civil war

Civil war in Afghanistan was a carefully planned and instigated war and not a desire of the post-Soviet Afghan leaders which included people like my father. The absence of international support, the lack of resources to build much-needed infrastructure, and the ‘loyalty-for-rent’ of some Afghans led to the civil war. I use the term “loyalty-for-rent” to describe Afghans whose loyalty is to money and greed, not their country; those who are willing to work to forward the agenda of different organisations that pay them and are willing to compromise their integrity, values, their people and their country.

Thankfully, today the international community in Afghanistan is a witness to the problems Afghans like my father faced. Back then, my father was all on his own. My message to the people of Afghanistan is to become the change in Afghanistan they want to see. How they want to make that change happen is entirely up to them, but I hope it will be through peaceful means.

Q. What were your father’s views on the western powers and the international coalition. Do you believe their aggressive actions and presence are counterproductive to the peaceful future of Afghanistan?

People are very quick to attack the western powers because it has always been the easy thing to do. We are at war against terrorism globally and the West has also been a victim. Of course there are always casualties in war and people who expect no casualties in a war have either never given any sacrifices themselves, or simply do not understand war and what it takes for them to enjoy a free and peaceful life in a sovereign country they can all call home. No one seems to talk about all the positive changes and contributions the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and international aid organisations like USAID of United States and AusAID of Australia have done for Afghanistan.

Q. Many in Afghanistan are blaming Pakistan for playing a role in your father’s death.

I would not be doing justice to either the Pakistani or the Afghan public if I did not mention that certain Pakistani leaders are the leading contributors to Afghan turmoil. For example, General Pervez Musharraf always promotes ethnic division in Afghanistan and believes in the ethnic supremacy of one group over others. It was this fascist mentality that led to Pakistan’s recognition and unconditional support of the Taliban regime. Interestingly, every Pakistani I have met who supports the Taliban, also happily enjoys consumption of alcohol and other activities that would get them killed immediately if they were to live under a Taliban-style Islamic state.

As far as my father’s death is concerned, the suicide bomber was a Pakistani citizen and all the evidence that was collected was traced back to Pakistan. This included the phone calls, the address of the house where the meetings took place, pictures, co-conspirators etc. The evidence was submitted to Pakistani officials in Kabul and it only took Pakistan two days to throw the ball back to Afghanistan and say it was an inside job. If Pakistan has any evidence to prove that, we would be happy to sit with them and get to the bottom of it. But when the Pakistani government refuses visas for Afghan investigators and when the former head of ISI refers to international terrorists as “just as much of a Pakistani citizen as I am (referring to himself)”, it begs the question as to how much the ISI knows and why they are not being transparent. As a result, the world is led to believe that the Pakistani government does endorse terrorism through proxy groups and puppets like the Taliban.

If we continue to get mixed and conflicting messages from Pakistan, we will pursue my father’s case as well as those of other slain Afghan leaders, starting from Ahmed Shah Masood onwards, through an independent UN enquiry commission. We want to find every single person who was involved: from the ordering to planning to where the bomb was assembled, every individual who paid for it, anyone who helped in these chain of murders, and we will pursue them as long as it takes and find them wherever they are and bring them to justice.

Q. How important do you think the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is for the peace process and the future of the region?

Very important. After all, leaders come and go but nations do not. After my father’s assassination, Pakistan is likely to see a more vocally confrontational Afghanistan. Personally, I expect the Afghan government and our allies to have a transactional relationship with Pakistan from now on.  Both Pakistanis and Afghans are highly emotional and patriotic people, and they must learn to ask questions of their governments and learn to detect the troublemakers amongst them. My father consistently encouraged strong relations with Pakistan. In his official trip to Pakistan, he encouraged Pakistanis to resolve their differences with India and he sent the same message to India on his visit there. It puts us in a very difficult position to see Pakistan not have a healthy relationship with India. As for the peace process, he never had any serious concerns in regards to its success because time and again, in every regional visit he made and in all meetings that took place, he was convinced that many Taliban are ready to embrace life in the new Afghanistan.

Q. But the Taliban do not seem to have any real interest in negotiating. Do you think they will ever be reconciled?

They are brainwashed by a militant ideology. Afghanistan will be moving forward so it is up to them to adapt or be left behind and find themselves alone. They were used as puppets by specific governments for a specific agenda and will continue to be used. Once they have fulfilled their purpose, they will be left on their own. While there are many Afghan Taliban factions, Afghans tend to associate the Taliban with Pakistan and this is due to the enormous support they received from Pakistan. If such support stops, I believe Afghanistan will no longer see any active Taliban. One of the terms of the High Peace Council was that if the Taliban agreed to reconcile and take any positions in the Afghan government, they would do so by accepting the democratic system and rule of law. This meant respect for human rights which includes women’s rights and the right to education and other changes that Afghanistan has adopted as a nation.

Q. What steps do you feel both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to take to strengthen their bond?

If Pakistan does not want to see Afghanistan pointing fingers at it, it will need to proactively track down militant groups and cooperate on all levels possible. For its part, Afghanistan needs to acknowledge that it too has rogue elements within its own government and must continue the dialogue on ways to improve the security situation in both countries

Q. Let’s talk about the Haqqani network. There have been allegations that they are responsible for your father’s assassination. Do you believe this is a knee-jerk reaction, or is there some evidence to this?

It is still too early in the investigation to determine how many groups were involved but there is no doubt that the ring of terrorist organisations all work together and supplement each other

Q. What would you summarise as being the internal issues in Afghanistan that continue to affect its stability?

In my opinion, one of the biggest internal issues is the sense of entitlement in government posts that the new players in the Afghan political scene have — this is in reference to expatriate Afghans who came to Afghanistan only after 9/11 with a very arrogant approach. Afghans must learn to earn in Afghanistan, even if they come from other countries with a tremendous set of knowledge and skills. Nothing comes for free and if they are to earn the people’s lasting support and respect, they have to genuinely help without any agendas. The true test of such players will come when it is time to stand up for Afghanistan.

Secondly, the ethnic divide is plaguing Afghans. Growing up, I never came across Afghans who would ask about my ethnicity but now I am consistently asked by foreigners about my ethnicity and even whether I am a Sunni or a Shia. This approach to Afghanistan is extremely dangerous and those who try to endorse this type of division amongst Afghans in any manner will have no future in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 20th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Nov 20, 2011 - 1:27PM

    Bla bla bla. Blame Pakistan. Point fingers at Pakistan. But the truth is that if it weren’t for us, you’d be speaking Russian! And another truth is that if it wasn’t for us, the Imperial powers(US & NATO) wouldn’t be humiliated and trying to find an exit! We want a free and prosperous Afghanistan, and a free and prosperous Pakistan.


  • Nov 20, 2011 - 1:33PM

    How about for a change you stop harbouring Pakistan’s enemies: CIA and RAW? After decades of blind support, at the cost of our own social, economic and security harmony, THIS is how you repay us?


  • Jack
    Nov 20, 2011 - 3:59PM

    How about for a change you mind your own business and focus on your internal problems? Why do you actively pursue strategies that will result in Pakistan becoming a global paraiah? Do you think speaking Russian is a worse result than the consequences of your meddling – generations of Afghans over the last 30 years who ended up refugees or worse, prisoners of extremists in their own land? Is this the blind support that you refer to? Shame on you. And if it werent for you, the Imperial powers wouldnt be there at all.


  • WoW
    Nov 20, 2011 - 4:02PM

    Sorry but truth is alsways bitter.


  • Nov 20, 2011 - 6:51PM


    Ignorance is bliss isn’t it? Some 35 years ago, three Afghans from Kabul University, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, came to Pakistan and begged for assistance against the Soviet backed government. At the same time, about three and a half million Afghan refugees entered Pakistan, uninvited. We did not choose to be involved in their war. Their war was thrust upon us; but embraced it, as our own war. And them, as our brothers and guests. That is history, yet many forget.


  • Jack
    Nov 20, 2011 - 8:25PM

    Distortion of history (or only remembering the convenient parts) has always been Pakistan’s prerogative – so no surprises. Pakistan did support the mujahideen and after the Soviet’s left Pakistan chose to back the most blood thirsty of the warlords (Hekmatyar) initially while he attacked Kabul. Later, when it appeared that he may not fall in line with Pak army/ ISI requirements, he was unceremoniously ditched and the Taliban was supported. All the years that the Taliban was in power and Afghan citizens were in misery, Pakistan never used its considerable clout with the militant regime to help its ‘brothers’. And given that the situation in Afghanistan never improved after the civil war (because of your continued involvement), those who came as refugees were forced to stay and now work in in Pakistan (there are 1.7mn refugees btw – its interesting that you doubled the figure so easily). In fact another interesting fact is that you have now begun to repatriate the refugees, something that you was not possible when the Taliban were in power – because the last couple of years have been the best for Afghans in a long time (comparatively). Anyway, that is history, yet many forget.


  • Nov 20, 2011 - 10:32PM

    You can follow Shuja Rabanni on twitter:!/ShujaRabbani


  • Ahmad
    Nov 20, 2011 - 10:38PM

    @ antebellum
    Why you are crying my friend? You guys were not even able your own problems, let alone to establish a pupit regime for ISI in Afghanistan. You guys just know how use extremists as a foreign policy tool, nothing else. If you had not supported mujahideen your own Pakistan was the next target of red army in their pursue to warm waters. It is now a known fact.


  • Mir Agha
    Nov 20, 2011 - 10:48PM

    The fourth Q&A is the most important in order to understand the problem in Afghanistan. The same fascists supporting a foreign presence and ideology in Afghanistan with communism/atheism are the the same liberal fascists now supporting secularism, ‘democracy’, ‘liberalism’, ‘women’s rights’ etc now. Just like the stooges of the communists got nowhere, so too will the secularists of today. They’ll probably run away again to foreign countries only to return with the next invasion of their homeland. A homeland and its peoples who they have no regard for.


  • Imran
    Nov 21, 2011 - 12:02AM

    Long live Af-Pak friendship. Our ties are thousands of year old.


  • Niaz
    Nov 21, 2011 - 12:51AM

    History doesn’t start with what we hear from two fellows and from Soviet invasion (well some say it was Afghans who submitted formal request to Brezhnev to send troops to safeguard Communist regime in Kabul) it has so much to say, if one dare to have deep view rather than surface opinions shared on the issue.

    A logical and analytical view of the history would be more appreciative before blaming anyone. The fellows seems to have love-hate affairs with Pakistan while not throwing light on the root cause(s).

    What I would suggest, humbly, that mind should act like prism to distribute acquired knowledge in different colors the way light is distributed. Opinions are always different like faces and should be respected than of blaming!


  • Nov 21, 2011 - 1:05AM


    After the Soviets left, Afghanistan was in a state of civil war, Hikmatyar promissed order so we supported him, when it became clear that he couldn’t we, rightly, switched our support to the Taliban, who by the way did end the civil war and bring peace to the 90% of the country under them. Under Taliban, the UN declared Afghanistan a DRUG-FREE country! Facts you conveniently left out.

    The first thing we wanted to see after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan was the back of refugees. Your idea is absurd to the fullest! We tried many times to send them back but either they refused to return, to a war-torn and economically depleted country, or the UN created all the hue-and-cry about FORCING the refugees back!

    Oh and here are your 3 million Afghan refugees: UNHCR: As of 2002 1.9M repatriated, 1.1M still remaining (do the maths)! or

    The refugees started returning to Afghanistan, since 2002, because the UN (read: USA) have been paying them to go back, why? Because it creates good press of a successful Afghanistan, which we all know now was hog-wash! History is very interesting, isn’t it!


  • Nov 21, 2011 - 1:11AM


    My dear Indian friend. A solid Pakistan stands in your path to Afghanistan. Deal with it!


  • fahim
    Nov 21, 2011 - 2:55AM

    @ Jack … what pakistan was in 70s end and after that everyone knows 3rd generation of millions of refugees selling drugs , guns and doing all sort of things…now uncle sam is going to station in kabul it will make every one happy ….just wait and watch..the first country to refuse pakistan in 1947 Afghanistan .. first to vote against UN membership pakistan….future i can tell you Pashtun in afghanistan and pakistan will ask for ” Pakhtunistan” but we will be gone by then ….


  • Niaz
    Nov 21, 2011 - 6:06AM

    @ Fahim
    Its useless to knock such doors nailed with biased and surface thoughts (not even it knowledge). They don’t look blood and crimes in their hands and point towards others while claiming to be the so-called saviors of humanity.


  • Pashtun
    Nov 21, 2011 - 10:31AM

    I agree with you….we have to forget our bitter history and just concentrate on our bright future together…AF-PAK friendship should be strengthened,….we are muslims and we should be united ,…. and I think Afghan and Pak people share common interests…


  • Cynical
    Nov 28, 2011 - 4:03AM

    Enough of finger pointing.Time to bury the hachet.Time is running out.


  • Ali
    Nov 28, 2011 - 5:43AM

    Love you boy!


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