The Assassination Next Door

For the last nine years, I have lived part time in Afghanistan, in a house in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul. In the past, when I gave directions to my house, I mentioned the well-known landmark next door: the home of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council and a former president and leader of the mujahedeen. As Afghanistan’s security situation has steadily deteriorated, people have been more and more hesitant to visit me; few of my acquaintances wanted to risk being near the home of the man responsible for trying to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

I was in New York last week when Mr. Rabbani was killed in that home. A young man posing as an emissary of peace hid explosives in his turban, detonating them in Mr. Rabbani’s reception room when he leaned in to greet my neighbor and kiss his shoulder. With his death comes the destruction of the hope many key Afghan leaders had for talks with the Taliban, as well as their trust in President Hamid Karzai’s ability to make peace.

By deciding to try to broker peace between Mr. Karzai’s government and the Taliban, Mr. Rabbani acted against the wishes of his political enemies, as well as many of his friends and colleagues. A number of influential spiritual leaders and political heavyweights who tried to guard Afghanistan’s young democracy in the post-Taliban period had already been murdered.

Nowhere was Mr. Rabbani’s security situation more precarious than on our street. Guards operated a checkpoint outside his home, and every day there was a crowd huddled around it — beggars, people with illnesses or complaints, Afghans from all around the country who hoped to receive help from the well-known politician. “Your house will explode along with Rabbani’s if there’s ever a suicide attack at that checkpoint,” an American friend warned me during my last visit to Afghanistan, just a month ago. “Those guards are good for nothing,” he’d said. “They could easily be disarmed.”

Yet I have never felt unsafe on Rabbani’s street. As a journalist, I found it a privilege to live near the man whom admirers called “Oustad Rabbani” — Professor Rabbani.

I interviewed him many times in the last few years. During Afghanistan’s most turbulent political periods, like elections or loya jirgas, the tribal assemblies that serve as national referendums, I’d station myself in his foyer for hours at a time in order to hear what was happening in the government, and obtain firsthand information for my articles. Polite, soft-spoken and humble, Mr. Rabbani always granted me an audience, greeting me with a close-lipped smile before offering raisins and walnuts and green tea.

Though Mr. Rabbani often criticized the Karzai administration, he remained hopeful that the Afghan people would take advantage of the world’s interest in their country to achieve peace before it was too late. “We must act before international donors stop caring whether or not we achieve democracy or a higher standard of living,” he told me. “One day, the world will no longer care and we will lose our support.”

As a moderate who was a leader of the mujahedeen, Mr. Rabbani served as a link between different factions of power in Afghan society. Through active diplomacy, he persuaded his fellow mujahedeen to stand by Mr. Karzai in spite of their differences. Now, with respected figures blaming the president (and what they see as his naïve support for dialogue) for Mr. Rabbani’s death, it will be virtually impossible for him to regain their trust and restart peace talks with the Taliban.

For the last nine years, the only traffic around my house was from people coming and going to visit Mr. Rabbani. In the wake of his murder, anyone walking along my street will arrive at a dead end.

Camelia Entekhabifard, the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth — a Memoir of Iran and a journalist reporting on Iranian and Afghan affairs.

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