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Taliban’s Killing of Top Negotiator a ‘Clear Signal’ Against Peace Talks

September 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president in charge of negotiating with the Taliban, was killed Tuesday by a suicide bomber posing as a peace envoy. Margaret Warner gets the latest details, reactions and information on the suspected perpetrators from Patrick Quinn of The Associated Press, speaking from Kabul.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In Kabul, Afghanistan, the top official trying to make peace with the Taliban was the victim of an assassination today.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president, for the past year has been leader of the so-called High Peace Council, a 68-member group trying to negotiate a reconciliation with the Taliban.

Afghan officials say Rabbani was killed at his Kabul home by a suicide bomber. Three other people were wounded. There are conflicting accounts of how the murderer gained access to Rabbani. Meeting at the United Nations at midday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama expressed determination that the Afghan-led peace process would go on.

Karzai is flying home early from the U.N. to deal with the fallout.

For more, we turn to Patrick Quinn, news editor for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Associated Press in Kabul.

And, Patrick, welcome.

Tell me what the latest is on what exactly happened.

PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press: Well, what Afghan officials and NATO are saying is that the suicide bomber carried out the attack with a bomb inside his turban. He apparently gained access to Mr. Rabbani’s home pretending to be an emissary for the Taliban.

He was actually escorted into the house by a former Taliban leader and former fighter who fought along with Rabbani against the Russians. So he gained access pretty much by saying that he was there to discuss peace. He entered the home, shook Mr. Rabbani’s hand, apparently bowed over in a sign of respect, and then blew up the turban.

The explosion killed Mr. Rabbani. It also seriously injured a senior adviser to President Karzai on issues of reconciliation and reintegration, former Minister Stanikzai. So this suicide bomber essentially managed to damage the two people who were leading the peace process here in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, what are U.S. and Afghan officials saying to you about how big a blow this is for the U.S.-backed effort, led by the Afghan government, to negotiate an end to this war?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, everybody here is trying to sort of not downplay the event, but they’re basically saying the peace process will continue.

However, this is a very clear sign that the Taliban are not interested in talking peace. They have just killed the top negotiator who was responsible for bringing peace or trying to bring the Taliban into this government or find some negotiated settlement to a war that has no military solution.

So by killing a — the top negotiator and trying to kill the number-two person in the reconciliation process, Minister Stanikzai, I think they have given a very clear signal that they’re not really interested in talking.

MARGARET WARNER: What kind of progress had Rabbani and his High Peace Council made in the last 11 months since they have been doing this?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, most of the discussions have been kept pretty hush-hush and pretty secret.

We know they have been talking to the Taliban. We’re not quite sure which part of the Taliban they have been talking to, but some progress had been made. We have to remember there have essentially been two tracks on this. There is a U.S.-led effort to open talks to the Taliban. This occurred in meetings in Germany and Doha.

However, everybody has insisted that this is an Afghan-led, an Afghan-owned peace process. So some progress is made, not very visible, but whatever it was, it’s gone now.

MARGARET WARNER: This comes just a week after the Taliban mounted this, what, 20-hour siege of the U.S. Embassy and the international forces’ headquarters in Kabul. What does it say about the strength of the Taliban in the heart of Kabul?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, it’s not so much about the strength of the Taliban in the heart of Kabul. It’s about the strength of the Afghan police and their ability to stop the Taliban.

Let us not forget that, as part of the transition process from NATO/U.S. control to Afghan control, we will be handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces by 2014. So it makes somebody wonder how prepared they will be to assume that responsibility. This isn’t — this is the third attack inside of Kabul in three months — actually, the fourth attack.

It wasn’t just the U.S. Embassy. They attacked the British Council at the end of last month. They attacked a large Western hotel here. There have been many deaths. This basically is a sign, perhaps it’s perception, that the Taliban are trying to tell people, well, we can strike anywhere we want any time we want.

MARGARET WARNER: Patrick Quinn of the Associated Press, thank you so much.

PATRICK QUINN: Thank you, Margaret.