A senior Afghan peace negotiator and close ally of President Hamid Karzai was shot dead in Kabul today, dealing a major blow to Kabul’s efforts to broker peace with Taliban insurgents.
Arsala Rahmani, a former minister in the Taliban regime, was a “key negotiator” in the High Peace Council (HPC) established by Mr Karzai to hold talks with the insurgents.
“Shortly after leaving home he was hit by a single bullet from a passing car” as he was driving to work, Mr Rahmani’s grandson Mohammad Waris told AFP.
“The bullet passed through his left arm and hit his heart. He died in the hospital.”
The Taliban, who have waged a decade-long insurgency aimed at toppling Karzai’s government, threatened earlier this month to target members of the HPC as part of their “spring offensive”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, however, denied involvement in the assassination.
The HPC was established by Mr Karzai in 2010 to negotiate peace with the Taliban and other insurgents waging war against his administration and some 130,000 US-led NATO troops.
Rahmani “had recently established contacts with senior Taliban leaders”, a senior security official told AFP, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The Taliban have publicly rejected Mr Karzai’s calls for peace, calling him a puppet of the Americans and insisting on the complete withdrawal of Western troops.
The Islamic militants in March pulled out of preliminary talks with US officials in the Gulf state of Qatar, saying Washington had not fulfilled agreed confidence-building pledges, among them releasing five Taliban leaders held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
For its part, Washington has consistently said any talks with the Taliban to end the war could only take place with the agreement of the Afghan government, which eventually should lead the process.
Mr Rahmani, who was the Taliban’s higher education minister during their rule from 1996 to 2001, joined Karzai’s government after the regime was toppled by a US-led invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda on New York and Washington.
His death is the second major blow to Karzai’s US-backed peace efforts in less than a year. The former head of the council, ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed last September by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy.
Karzai last month appointed Rabbani’s son, Salahuddin Rabbani to replace his father.