KABUL Afghanistan's government on Saturday appointed Salahuddin Rabbani, the son of slain statesman Burhanuddin Rabbani, to replace his father and lead the country's High Peace Council charged with reaching out to Taliban insurgents.
Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was head of the council when he was assassinated last September by an insurgent carrying a bomb hidden in a turban, a major setback to reconciliation efforts with the Afghan Taliban, and exploratory moves towards peace talks.
Salahuddin Rabbani is currently Afghanistan's ambassador to Turkey, and his appointment as Kabul's chief peace negotiator with the Taliban ends a seven-month gap at the top of the 70-member council as the Taliban intensifies a spring bombing offensive in the leadup to the summer fighting months.
"The presence of foreign troops has prolonged conflict and insecurity," he said in a statement issued by President Hamid Karzai's office, aimed at mollifying insurgents who demand the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country.
"We will have achievement in the peace process when the leadership is in the hands of Afghans. Without it we cannot move it forward and get the nation's confidence," he said.
His job will be made more difficult by the Taliban's refusal to deal with Karzai's Western-backed government, whose officials it calls U.S. "stooges". Last month the Taliban suspended exploratory peace negotiations with the United States.
Rabbani's appointment was "suitable for consolidating national unity and preventing foreign interference", Karzai said in the statement.
The assassination of his father last year in Kabul's upmarket Wazir Akhbar Khan neighborhood triggered a major diplomatic rift with Pakistan, with Afghan officials accusing the Pakistan's powerful Inter Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, of having a role in his killing.
An investigative delegation established by Karzai said evidence and a confession provided by a man involved in Rabbani's killing on September 20 had revealed that the bomber was Pakistani and the assassination had been plotted in Pakistan. Islamabad angrily rejected the allegation.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, was a celebrated former Afghan Mujahideen leader who fought against the Soviet occupation of the country during the 1980s.
His Jamiat-e-Islami fighters were among the first to reach Kabul after the Soviet exodus in 1989, paving the way for him to become president until his ousting by the Taliban in 1996.
(Writing by Rob Taylor, Editing by Daniel Magnowski)