When a suicide bomber killed former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani last week at his Kabul residence, he may also have delivered a mortal blow to the peace process as well. This is the third major act of terrorism in Afghanistan this month, with all three attacks carried out in supposedly secure locations.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid initially claimed the group’s responsibility for the Rabbani assassination, although the group seemed to backtrack from the comments a day later. Regardless of whether the assassination was carried out by the Taliban, the perpetrators were merely the hand that executed the act. The mind was most likely located elsewhere, probably somewhere in Pakistan.
Rabbani was Afghanistan’s president in the 1990’s, when the Taliban was fast becoming a major political and military force that eventually seized control of the troubled state in 1996. Rabbani was chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, and was close to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His loss weakens Karzai considerably, and it’s difficult to believe that there can be business as usual with the Afghan peace process with Rabbani’s loss
Rabbani’s assassination will also inevitably have significant strategic consequences for India. The weakening of Karzai, a staunch friend of India, isn’t good news for New Delhi. Rabbani’s ascendance, meanwhile, was presenting a nightmarish scenario for the Pakistani military establishment as it was seen as a step toward the resurgence of the Northern Alliance, which had a fabled strategic alliance with India. This would have unsettled Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt Gen. Shuja Pasha.
India will have to play its Afghan cards particularly cautiously now, and intensify its behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings with a three-fold objective: (i) to remain relevant in Afghanistan’s messy and often dangerous politics; (ii) to stay one up on Pakistan, and (iii) to safeguard its strategic and security interests in a country where the strengthening of pro-Pakistan influence too often seems proportional to terrorist activities in India.