The competition for a successor to the late former president Burhanuddin Rabbani at the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) is over: Rabbani’s eldest son Salahuddin has been appointed by President Karzai. But is this appointment a real attempt to get a peace process on track, or is it instead, simply an alliance-building manoeuvre within the Kabul political establishment – just as with the original appointment of his father? AAN’s Gran Hewad looks at the background and possible implications of the decision.
After several months of bargaining, President Karzai apparently succeeded in brokering a compromise in the High Peace Council (HPC) over the succession of its assassinated leader, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani. Under pressure from Karzai, members of the HPC have accepted Salahuddin Rabbani, acting head of the Jamiat-e Islami party, as its leader, despite earlier resistance by a large number, reportedly because of his relative youth at 41-years-old.
With Salahuddin Rabbani’s appointment, the President might be aiming to strengthen his relations with Jamiat, rather than the HPC. At the same time, the appointment pays official respect to the soul and to the family members of the Martyr of Peace, late Prof. Rabbani.
But big challenges are still to be met with Salahuddin’s succession. A number of big fish active in the HPC remain unconvinced, and a good number of tough issues will need to be settled before the council’s members will welcome their new leader and work with him. And Rabbani’s main condition for accepting the position does not seem to have been accepted, yet.
Salahuddin Rabbani is the oldest of five siblings, two sisters and three brothers. He is the only son known to have developed his father’s taste for politics. He worked in his father’s political office in the North during the late Nineties, at Afghanistan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, at Noor, the Jamiat party television channel, and as Ambassador to Turkey between 2010 and 2011. He completed a BA at Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, an MA from Kingston University’s Business School in the UK, and a second MA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in the United States.
The big fish still to be won over to Salahuddin’s leadership sit both within his party and the HPC. After his father’s death, Salahuddin was selected as the acting head of the Jamiat-e Islami party (see our earlier blog here), although this succession split the party into several factions. In fact, his selection was both compensation for his father’s death and a result of Jamiat’s internal politics. He is still leading the party, but promised on 23 February 2012 in a speech on the occasion of 33rd anniversary of the Kabul people’s revolution, at a public gathering in the capital, that a party congress would be convened to elect a new leader and decide the party’s future political course, though he has not specified dates.
Even before Salahuddin’s appointment was made public, several of the HPC’s influential members including Hazrat Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani of Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami and Mawlawi QiyamuddinKashaf, head of the Ulema Council, protested to Karzai against the possibility of him becoming the head of the council. Mawlawi Qalamuddin, the former Taleban director of the Vice and Virtue Department has said to Radio Azadi that Salahuddin is too young to take the lead of a council whose membership is made up of tribal elders and Ulema. It remains to be seen what these elders and Ulema’s attitude towards him will be – will it be less cooperative or outrightly confrontational? Only time will tell.
Months back, when discussions about the appointment of Salahuddin as the chairperson of the HPC started, he had conditioned his agreement to accept the offer on the removal of Massum Stanekzai, the Secretary General of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP). Stanekzai, a key player in the Kabul talks and the reintegration process, was injured in the turban bombing that killed Prof Rabbani. According to interviews conducted by AAN, the reason for Salahuddin’s resentment towards Stanekzai is linked to the fact that he had organised the meeting which brought Rabbani’s death.
Success for Salahuddin, the educated diplomat, at the HPC – a body riven by a patchwork combination of members and full of strongly held biased opinions – is akin to hiking a peak in the Hindu Kush for one who has only experienced running races. Dealing with all the strongmen in HPC was impossible even for his father who was a known and seasoned Jehadi leader. Former Taleban leaders, a number of Jehadi politico-military party leaders plus Stankezai whom Salahuddin had tried to remove, remain in the top circle of the council, and will make it difficult for him to reach consensus on decision-making.
Against these pressures, Karzai still brought Salahuddin to the council’s top position. This amounts to the president investing politically in a young leader from the family of a former president of the country, and the only one to have come from the North in the recent history of Afghanistan. The decision also indirectly works in the service of the president’s private political agenda. Politicisation of the peace process looks likely, and the president’s desire to secure a young political ally in the North ahead of expected political conflicts will probably once again weaken an already dysfunctional HPC.
For further analysis of the decision, see Akmal Dawi’s blog here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020