KABUL: Gunmen shot dead a top Afghan peace negotiator in the Afghan capital on Sunday, police said, dealing another blow to the country’s attempts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.
Maulvi Arsala Rahmani was one of the most senior members on the Afghan High Peace Council, set up by President Hamid Karzai two years ago to liaise with insurgents.
“He (Rahmani) was stuck in heavy traffic when another car beside him opened fire,” said General Mohammad Zahir, head of the investigations unit for Kabul police.
Rahmani was on his way to a meeting with lawmakers and other officials in a government-run media centre in the heavily barricaded diplomatic centre of Kabul when he was shot dead.
“His driver did not immediately realise that Rahmani had been killed,” police official Zahir told Reuters, adding that no one had been arrested in connection with the shooting.
Rahmani was the second high-profile member of the peace council to have been assassinated. Last year, the council’s chief Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber at his residence in Kabul.
Tributes to Rahmani and condemnation of his killing poured in from President Karzai, Pakistan, the UN, the US embassy and Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
“Enemies of the Afghan people once again proved that they fear peace in Afghanistan and resort to targeting those who are working to ensure peace in their country,” Karzai said.
In Islamabad foreign ministry said in a statement: “Our two countries face the common threat of terrorism, and Pakistan is committed to work closely with Afghanistan to eliminate this scourge.
“Pakistan would continue to support all efforts that contribute to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.”
ISAF said: “Rahmani, a former Taliban member, chose to make a positive contribution to his nation by turning his back on an insurgent movement that continues to be wholly detrimental to the future of Afghanistan.”
The Taliban denied involvement in Rahmani’s killing. “Others are involved in this,” their spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Splinter group claims responsibility
However, a splinter group of the Taliban claimed that they had killed Rahmani. “We claim responsibility for the killing of Arsala,” a spokesperson for the little-known ‘Mullah Dadullah Mahaz’ or Mullah Dadullah Front told The Express Tribune in a text message.
“The infidel forces had assigned Arsala (Rahmani) to sell out the mujahideen to non-Muslims, so that the non-Muslims continue their occupation of Afghanistan,” said the spokesperson identifying himself as Qari Hamza. “We will target and eliminate all such people.”
The Mullah Dadullah Front was named after senior Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed by foreign and Afghan forces in southern Helmand province in May 2007.
The group is believed to be operating in the Pashtoon-dominated southern parts of Afghanistan including Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan. The group opposes Taliban talks with the United States.
Impact on peace process
Afghan analysts say that Rahmani’s murder will dampen the morale of other pace negotiators and government officials.
“The brazen attack will damage the morale of peacemakers and government officials,” former defence minister Shahnawaz Tanai told The Express Tribune by phone from Kabul.
However, he believed that it would not affect the peace process which has not been able to achieve much.
Rahmani’s assassination comes at a time when Pakistan has formally invited the peace council’s new chief for an official visit to discuss reconciliation efforts in the war-torn country.
The visit of Salahuddin Rabbani, who is the son of Burhanuddin Rabbani, will mark the revival of Pak-Afghan joint efforts, which had faced months of deadlock over Burhanuddin Rabbani’s assassination.
(Agencies with additional reporting by Tahir Khan in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.