The killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who led the High Peace Council, illustrates all too well the tremendous obstacles to a meaningful reconciliation among Afghanistan's various factions. Before his death on September 20 at the hands of a man who claimed to be an emissary of the Quetta Shura, Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, had been in charge of reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents. His appointment had apparently been meant as a way to pull the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance into the peace process. The jury is still out on exactly who ordered the killing -- the Taliban first claimed and then denied involvement -- but its implications are clear. Rabbani's assassination, the latest in a systematic campaign of targeted killings of high-profile anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, has increased the chance that tensions among the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, and other Islamist Pashtun groups could devolve into all-out war.
The beneficiary of this uncertainty is the region's primary spoiler: the Pakistani military. Although its generals have received billions of dollars in U.S. aid since 9/11 to combat terrorism, they have consistently done everything in their power to bolster it. They selectively cooperate with the United States, apprehending al Qaeda militants and fighting the Pakistani Taliban insurgents -- which also threaten the Pakistani military -- while sheltering and supporting other radical extremists, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which spearhead the deadly cross-border insurgency in Afghanistan.
The United States has had hard evidence of the Inter-Service Intelligence's double game for some time. For example, the George W. Bush administration reportedly intercepted communications between the ISI and Haqqani operatives who perpetrated the 2006 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. But in this and several other cases, the United States chose to look the other way, because it needed ISI cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. In addition, the United States continues to rely on Pakistan's land routes to supply its troops in Afghanistan.
It took a direct terrorist hit on