Senior Afghan peace council member assassinated in Kabul
Arsala Rahmani, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council who had served as a deputy education minister during Taliban rule in Afghanistan, was shot and killed while driving in Kabul today.
A car pulled alongside Rahmani's vehicle and a gunman opened fire, killing him immediately. The assassins escaped.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that his group was responsible for Rahmani's assassination.
"Others are involved in this," Mujahid said, according to Reuters. "We don't believe it's a big blow to peace efforts because the peace council has achieved nothing."
Rahmani was one of several Taliban commanders to reconcile with the Afghan government after the US invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He was named to the Afghan High Peace Council two years ago, and has been optimistic about efforts to strike a peace agreement with the Taliban.
Rahmani is the second member of the Afghan High Peace Council to have been assassinated in Kabul in seven months. On Sept. 20, 2011, a suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chief of the High Peace Council and former president of Afghanistan. The suicide bomber gained entrance to Rabbani's home under the guise of conducting negotiations on behalf of the Taliban. The suicide bomb was hidden in his turban.
The Taliban had initially claimed credit for the suicide attack on Rabbani, and then retracted the claim.
The International Security Assistance Force condemned today's assassination of Rahmani, and said it was an effort to derail the moribund peace process.
"The only possible aim of this attack is to intimidate those, who like Rahmani, want to help make Afghanistan a better place for its citizens and the region," ISAF said in a statement released on its website. "This attack is clear evidence that those who oppose the legitimate government of Afghanistan have absolutely no interest in supporting the peace process on any level but through murder, thuggery, and intimidation."
Attempts by NATO and the US to get the Taliban to conduct negotiations have collapsed over the past year. The US and NATO are hoping to reach a political settlement with the Taliban's top leadership as the Coalition draws down forces and ends combat operations in 2014.
The Taliban have denied conducting negotiations, and instead have characterized contacts with the US as "dialogue" for arranging a prisoner exchange. In mid-March, the Taliban announced the "suspension of dialogue" with the US, and said they would continue to wage "jihadi" operations in Afghanistan [see LWJ report, Taliban suspend 'dialogue' with US].
Rahmani's assassination occurred as the Taliban appear to be conducting a purge of leaders who have shown a willingness to negotiate with the Afghan government. This spring, the Taliban executed Mohammad Ismail, the former Deputy Military Council Chairman for the Taliban's Quetta Shura, after accusing him of engaging in backdoor talks with the Afghan government and of accepting large sums of money to participate in such talks. In addition, 26 other Taliban leaders have been killed for talking with the Afghan government over the past several months [see LWJ reports,Taliban leader confirms infighting and vows revenge, plots to kill Quetta Shura leadership, and Afghan intel confirms death of senior Afghan Taliban leader, possibly 25 others].