Thousands gather to mourn, bury Rabbani
By MARTIN KUZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 23, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan — Thousands of mourners gathered at a hilltop cemetery Friday for the burial of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, their grief over his murder earlier this week shot through with anger at those behind his assassination and doubts that peace will prevail in the war-scarred country.
“The enemies of Afghanistan — the Taliban, Pakistan — do not want the fighting to end,” said Kabul resident Mohammad Fateeh Kabeer, standing beside the dirt pit where Rabbani, 70, had been laid to rest. “They killed him because they only want war and death.”
Rabbani, whose four-year reign as president ended in 1996 when the Taliban rose to power, was killed Tuesday in his Kabul home when a man posing as a Taliban emissary detonated a bomb hidden in his turban. The Islamic militia has denied carrying out the assassination.
Rabbani headed the country’s High Peace Council, a body formed last year by President Hamid Karzai to negotiate an end to the Taliban-led insurgency that has choked Afghanistan for a decade.
“He was a good man and, to us, he was a man who was trying for peace,” said Ahmad Gan, who minutes earlier had kneeled and prayed beside Rabbani’s flower-topped grave. “To see him killed, it makes the entire country worried about the future.”
Hundreds of heavily armed Afghan soldiers and police officers, some riding in armored trucks, patrolled Kabul’s central district, prohibiting almost all vehicle traffic ahead of Friday’s service. The absence of cars created an uneasy quiet on a cloudless morning, as thousands walked up to the burial site atop a terraced, dun-colored hill that sits in the heart of the capital city of 4 million people.
Shortly before the funeral procession reached the hilltop after a ceremony at the presidential palace attended by Karzai and high-ranking Pakistani officials, the crowd grew restive. Some threw stones at the dark-tinted SUVs ferrying dignitaries and chanted slogans that derided Karzai, Pakistan and the United States. Afghan soldiers fired a series of warning shots into the air to restore a semblance of order.
Many among those in attendance carried wooden pickets topped with placards showing Rabbani’s image. Prayers mingled with shouting and wailing during the service, as mourners jostled for position inside the burial pit and pressed toward the coffin.
As the ceremony wound down, one man stood beside the grave in silence, lips trembling and eyes bloodshot from crying. Another man, kneeling beside the mounds of dirt beneath which Rabbani now lay, bowed his head as he brought his hands to his face.
The High Peace Council overseen by Rabbani, leader of the Northern Alliance that repelled the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, has made scant progress in forging conciliation among the insurgent factions vying for control of Afghanistan.
But despite the ambivalence he inspired outside the Tajik ethnic minority to which he belonged, he was considered a crucial ally of Karzai, a Pashtun whose efforts to seek peace with the Pashtun-dominated Taliban has provoked suspicion among the country’s minority groups.
Given Rabbani’s standing as one of the most prominent Afghan leaders killed during the war, those attending his funeral openly questioned whether Karzai and the nation’s young democratic government can withstand the insurgency.
“(Rabbani) defended our people against those who have turned against Afghanistan,” said Ahmad Jawed after stepping out of the burial pit. “His death is going to make it harder for President Karzai to control the country.”
Earlier, during the service at the presidential palace that drew hundreds of government officials, Karzai, who did not attend the burial ceremony, sought to reassure and rally his war-weary nation.
“It is our responsibility to act against those who are enemies of peace,” he said.
To the likes of Jawed, time is running out.
“The war has been going for 10 years,” he said. “A way must be found to stop it before it is too late.”