Burhanuddin Rabbani, former President of Afghanistan and Chairman of the High Peace Council — leading the year-old Afghan effort to negotiate with the Taliban — was killed in a bomb blast at his residence in the centre of Kabul's high-security diplomatic district.

The bomb went off inside the house at 6 p.m. local time. Reports from Kabul suggested that he was meeting two members of the Taliban at the time of the blast as part of the ongoing efforts at reconciliation. One of them is understood to have detonated the bomb while the other survived the blast with injuries. He and the driver of their vehicle are in custody.

The Associated Press quoted the chief of criminal investigation of Kabul Police, Mohammad Zahir, as stating that a turbaned man entered Prof. Rabbani's house and blew himself up. Questions were being raised about how he accessed the house and the area without being frisked if that was the case. Speculation is that he concealed the explosive in his turban knowing well the reluctance of local security personnel to search the turban because it is seen as disrespectful. There is the possibility that Prof. Rabbani's aides waived the security drill.

Prof. Rabbani's aides have apparently told the Kabul-based media that the Taliban members were carrying a message from the Quetta Shura — the Afghan Taliban's top leadership council, said to be based in Balochistan. Such was the veil of secrecy around the meeting that the former President's staff got to know of it only a couple of hours before the Taliban members arrived.

Another member of President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation team Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, who was at the meeting, was injured in the blast. The assassination of Prof. Rabbani — who fought as a mujahideen against Soviet occupation and was president of Afghanistan for two short stints — is seen as a big blow to the reconciliation process as he was someone who could rally the disparate Afghan groups.

Though the Taliban had ousted him from his first stint as president between 1992 and 1996 after which he became the nominal head of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, Prof. Rabbani, a Tajik, was regarded as a compromise figure who could reach out to the Taliban.

Meanwhile, there were reports quoting unnamed U.S. officials as stating that this attack, like the one last week in Kabul on the American Embassy, could be traced back to Pakistan and its “deep state”. At the same time, questions were being asked in Pakistan as to who stood to benefit most from sabotaging the ongoing efforts to reconcile with the Taliban.

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