To say that the Taliban assassin who exploded a bomb packed in his turban blew away chances of a settlement in Afghanistan by killing Burhanuddin Rabbani is an understatement. Afghans wouldn't see this is as a mere assassination of a man trying to broker peace. It was, more importantly, a Pashtun assassin who killed himself to eliminate the most widely respected leader among the Tajiks and the Hazaras — the large minorities in north and west Afghanistan who led the Northern Alliance's war against the Pashtun-controlled Taliban.
This narrative will deal a sledgehammer blow to ethnic relations in Afghanistan where no one trusts anyone. It will make it very difficult for President Hamid Karzai now to be seen as a leader of not just Pashtuns, but someone who can also be trusted by the Uzbeks and Tajiks.
There were hundreds of people on the street where Rabbani lived the day after he was killed. They were waving his pictures and chanting for peace, some perhaps even mourning his demise. During a similar autumn, 15 years back, there were people on the streets of Kabul too when Rabbani was fleeing. But these people were welcoming the murderous mullahs, whose darting, kohl-lined eyes would be busy for the next five years, spotting anything un-Islamic to order its destruction. For all the eulogies that are pouring out now, Kabul had perhaps never been as unsafe as it was when Rabbani presided for four years over a ragtag government of warlords who constantly changed sides and switched loyalties. Yet, it was a time when he and the other mujahedeen leaders were being lavishly rewarded by the West for defeating the Soviet invaders and overthrowing a pro-communist government.
Roadmaps to peace in Afghanistan have met their end in the paper-shredder mostly because since the days of the Great Game, ethnic fault lines have been deepened by strategic and geopolitical interests. No overarching central authority has had time to embed itself.
Add to this cocktail the ISI and the Pakistan military's obsession with using jihadis in its battles, and you have a holy mess far removed from any blueprint that the US has for Afghanistan. While the Taliban want to entrench this and reject any notion of a centralized modern state, the minorities view any imposition of a foreign structure with suspicion.