KABUL: An assassin armed with a silenced pistol shot dead a top member of the Afghan peace council today at a traffic intersection in the nation’s capital, police said.
The killing strikes another blow to efforts to negotiate a political resolution to the decade-long war.
Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban official who reconciled with the government and was active in trying to set up formal talks with the insurgents.
He was shot at an intersection in western Kabul by a gunman in a white Toyota Corolla while being driven to his office, said Mohammad Zahir, head of the city police’s criminal investigation division. He did not have a bodyguard with him at the time.
“Only one shot was fired,” Zahir said. “Our initial reports are that it was a pistol with a silencer. Rahmani died on the way to the hospital.” Zahir said an investigation was under way.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the killing, although they had earlier indicated that they would target peace negotiators.
Rahmani was one of about 70 influential Afghans and former Taliban appointed by President Hamid Karzai to the council. In addition to bringing the Taliban as a whole into the talks, it was also trying to convince individual insurgent leaders to reconcile with the government. It was unclear if a faction within the Taliban could have been responsible for the shooting.
The US has backed the council’s efforts to pull the Taliban into political discussions with Kabul as part of its strategy for reducing violence and turning over responsibility to Afghan forces so international combat troops can go home or move into support roles by the end of 2014.
But this effort suffered a major setback in September 2011 when former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was head of the peace council, was assassinated by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.
The US has its own contacts with the Taliban, but in March the militant organisation said they were suspending contacts with the United States over what they said was a lack of progress in releasing Taliban prisoners from US detention in Guantanamo.
The last substantive discussions between US officials and Taliban representatives were in January, and both initiatives to build trust and move toward real peace talks are in limbo.
A year ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was launching a “diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome.”
The alternative to a political resolution is a protracted conflict that neither the war-weary Afghans, Americans or Europeans want or can afford.
On Twitter, the US Embassy in Kabul called the assassination of another peace council member “a tragedy.”
NATO praised Rahmani for “turning his back” on the insurgent movement and said his contributions will be missed.
“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,” the coalition said in a statement.