KABUL, Afghanistan — The eldest son of the slain former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was chosen Saturday to replace his father as head of the council charged with overseeing reconciliation with the Taliban-led insurgency.
The move was aimed at reviving peace efforts that have been badly damaged, first by Rabbani's assassination by a suicide bomber in September, and then by an announcement in March by the Taliban that they were suspending contacts with U.S. officials on opening negotiations on a political settlement.
The 70-member High Peace Council unanimously selected Salahuddin Rabbani as its new chairman, said a statement issued by the presidential palace.
"I believe it is only through peace that stability and security can be ensured in Afghanistan. We look at peace as a religious principle," he was quoted as saying. Peace efforts can only succeed when they are Afghan-led, he added, "otherwise, public confidence cannot be won in fulfilling this national and Islamic duty."
Salahuddin Rabbani, 41, holds a master's degree from Columbia University in New York and has been serving as Kabul's ambassador to Turkey.
His statement appeared to a be reaffirmation of President Hamid Karzai's demand that an Afghan government representative be included in any further contacts between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives.
The Obama administration is seeking a political settlement to the war as it proceeds with a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The administration insists that any peace talks will be "Afghan-led." But it greatly angered Karzai by keeping him in the dark about the contacts with the Taliban in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Qatar that remained secret until they were disclosed in news media reports.
In announcing their decision to suspend the contacts, the Taliban said it was "pointless" to talk to Karzai's government, and accused their American interlocutors of being "shaky, erratic and vague."
The palace statement quoted Karzai as praising Rabbani's appointment, calling it a "move that will further forge national unity and an appropriate decision to prevent outside interferences in Afghan internal affairs."
It wasn't clear if Karzai was referring to the secret U.S.-Taliban contacts or to Pakistan, which he accuses of supporting the Taliban and other insurgent groups, and of hampering peace efforts by failing to close insurgent sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former guerrilla leader who served as Afghanistan's second president after the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, was assassinated in Kabul on Sept. 20 by a suicide bomber who detonated explosives hidden in his turban. The killer gained access to the former president by presenting himself as a Taliban peace emissary.
The slain Rabbani, a minority Tajik who commanded broad respect from membres of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, was appointed in 2010 as the first chairman of the High Peace Council, a body of prominent Afghans named by Karzai to over reconciliation efforts.
However, It appeared that his son's selection as his successor wasn't as smooth as the palace statement implied.
Mawlawi Qalamuddin, a council member who was the deputy head of the religious police during the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, said some council members voiced concerns about the new chairman's relatively young age. But, he added, Salahuddin Rabbani's appointment was better than continuing without a chairman.
"No one opposed Salahuddin Rabbani's personality and education, but some were concerned about his age," Qalamuddin said.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted a police vehicle in southern Kandahar province Saturday, wounding a police officer, said Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
The attack raised to at least nine the number of suicide bombings carried out in less than a week. At least two dozen people have been killed and scores wounded in those attacks.
(Safi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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