The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani shows the extreme tenuousness of any hopes of negotiation with the Taliban. Almost exactly a year before, the former president of Afghanistan had been appointed by President Hamid Karzai as the chair of the High Peace Council, a body designed to promote reconciliation.
The supposed peace process itself led to the murder of Mr. Rabbani. The suicide bomber got access to his victim by assuring another member of the Peace Council (a former official of the Taliban) that he “had a very serious and important message from the Quetta Shura” – that is, from the leadership of the Taliban. Mr. Rabbani was fulfilling his duties by receiving his assassin.
By contrast, the United States government has had a few tentative contacts with the Taliban, on neutral territory, with the help of German mediators, under carefully controlled circumstances, at a safe distance from Afghanistan – for example, once in Qatar, and once in Germany.
Mr. Rabbani – a Tajik from the north of the country, whereas almost all the Taliban are Pashtun – was frequently risking his life, travelling through Afghanistan, trying to pave the way to some sort of understanding.
All this is a far cry from some of the talk of peace that has become politically fashionable in the safe, developed world. The “cut and run” crowd that was ridiculed a few years ago has even taken to boasting about being morally right, that appeasing the Taliban will somehow save lives.
The carnage is arguably getting worse, and there is no conventional wisdom on what to do in or about Afghanistan. The interest of the Taliban in a compromise is a very shaky hypothesis.
It was Mr. Karzai who put Mr. Rabbani in harm’s way by giving him an extraordinarily dangerous mission. The President seems to be preparing for the day when NATO and ISAF have left, when the Afghan war will be once again a civil war, rather than a civil war with a huge international component. The Taliban are making strenuous threats in their assassination campaign. Mr. Rabbani’s end shows that talking to the Taliban can be fatal.