The recent spate of spectacular attacks in Kabul reveals as much about the struggle for supremacy within the Af-Pak insurgency itself as it does about the war between the insurgents and NATO. In the span of a single week, Afghans witnessed, first, the closing down of the center of the capital during a 20-hour siege on the U.S. Embassy, and then, exactly a week later, this past Tuesday, a political assassination: a suicide bomber packed his turban full of explosives and killed the chief of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesmen claimed responsibility for the Rabbani killing on Tuesday, but the group firmly denied any involvement on Wednesday. Investigations into Rabbani's death now need to establish exactly who tasked the suicide bomber; if the Quetta-based Afghan Taliban in fact assassinated one of the group's main interlocutors, the movement cannot seriously expect to move forward as a key player in a political process. Another possible scenario exists: one in which regional spoilers who want to sustain the armed struggle are acting on their own. If the operation was run from the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan, as some are now suggesting, the Rabbani assassination may be an operation on which the Quetta-based Taliban leadership simply was not briefed.
Think back to the attack on the embassy in Kabul. Immediately following the siege, nearly everyone pointed at the so-called Haqqani network, since the tactics used mirrored those of their previous exploits, such as the June attack on the Hotel Intercontinental and the August assault on the British Council. Yesterday, even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that the Pakistani intelligence services, or the ISI, were involved. But blaming the Haqqani network is like using a kind of militancy shorthand, as the much-used moniker fails to capture the complex nature of the politico-military organization that is expanding its scope, network, and political aspirations from a base in North Waziristan.
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