Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Death of Rabbani (4): Former Taleban Director of Ariana Airlines was the key go-between

Kate Clark 4 min

Details of the identities of two of the men involved in the plot to kill former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, have been given to AAN by a person close to the Afghan government. These fresh details ultimately came from Rahmatullah Wahidyar, the member of the High Peace Council who was the conduit for the killer to meet Rabbani on the evening of 20 September. He has been in NDS custody since the night of the attack. He has identified his two key contacts as senior officials from the pre-2001 Taleban government: former deputy minister of Hajj and Awqaf, Abdul Satar, and the former director of Ariana Airways, Hamidullah Akhundzada. The latter at least, was also in Guantanamo Bay. AAN Senior analyst, Kate Clark reports.

In the NDS press conference on 22 September (reported here), Wahidyar gave brief details of how the killer came to gain access to Rabbani. He said that four months ago, he had made contact with ‘a trusted man among the Taleban’ called Abdul Satar, who had provided a go-between called Hamidullah Akhundzada, with whom Wahidyar remained in regular contact. Hamidullah came to Kabul and met Wahidyar, Massum Stanekzai, the head of the HPC secretariat, and Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the HPC. According to Wahidyar, in early September, Hamidullah indicated that the Quetta Shura wanted to start direct negotiations with the Afghan government and that it would probably be another go-between who would come to Kabul with a message from the shura. This turned out to be a man called Mullah Esmatullah who would kill Rabbani and leave Wahidyar and Stanekzai wounded.

According to the fresh details from Wahidyar’s interviews, he knew two of the three key men from his days as deputy minister for refugees in the Taleban government. Abdul Satar had been the deputy minister for Hajj and Awqaf (religious endownments) and Hamidullah the director of Ariana Airlines (one of whose major tasks each year was to fly pilgrims to Saudi Arabia). All three men belonged to the Mawlawi Mansur wing of the mujahedin faction Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami. Abdul Satar and Hamidullah are both southerners, from Kandahar province and Washir district of Helmand respectively. Wahidyar is from Zurmat district in Paktia, which, because of the number of Taleban officials who came from there, was known as ‘Little Kandahar’ during the Emirate. Hamidullah was occasionally quoted by the media during the Emirate, for example, here and here.

As a senior official, Hamidullah was automatically named on the UN Sanctions list.* He was arrested by the American military in 2003 and detained in Guantanamo, but evidence against him was weak and tangential, as the charges put against him at his tribunal in the detention camp show.** The tribunal ruled that he was not an enemy combatant and he was released in 2005, it seems first to Bagram prison camp. The date of his release from there is not clear. Sources told AAN that Abdul Satar had also been in Guantanamo Bay, although possibly under a different name (we have not yet been able to find his records).

It is now becoming easier to see how Wahidyar, Rabbani and ultimately Karzai were gulled. When asked to seek out contacts with the Quetta Shura, Wahidyar made contact with an old Harakat party comrade whom he knew from the Emirate, who passed him on to another Harakat man, again with good Taleban credentials. Neither, however, was from Wahidyar’s part of the country; if they had been Harakat contacts from Loya Paktia, he would have had a much more intimate knowledge of these two men.

In addition, Wahidyar’s old connection with Burhannudin Rabbani – he was minister of refugees during the Rabbani government of the 1990s – helped smooth the relationship and ensure trust between the two men. (Incidentally, in its press conference on 22 September, NDS said it views Wahidyar as a victim, not a member of the plot.)

But the plotters’ deception was made infinitely easier by the context of drama and ‘cloak and dagger’ secrecy in which Rabbani and his aides went about making contact and how they could earn prestige with the President by bringing back ‘trophy’ contacts. Musa Hotak, who is another member of the HPC (as well as a former Taleban deputy minister and former Harakat commander), said – before these recent revelations – that there had been tension between ‘the HPC and Ustad Rabbani’ over this lack of openness. He said that, as a member of the Contact Committee of the HPC he, like others, should have been told about this conduit, but Rabbani, he alleged, worked ‘directly and individually and without discussing this with us.’ Sources close to government have said that the NDS was also kept in the dark.

When Esmatullah (the killer) turned up in Kabul, Wahidyar, Stanekzai and President Karzai were all delighted, believing they had achieved a speedy and major breakthrough. That naivety ended with Rabbani dead, three others injured and with the very name of peace tainted.

It is still not clear how far up this plot went. Now more than ever, the Taleban needs to end its silence and clarify who ordered this killing.

* TI.H.118.01. Name: 1: HAMIDULLAH 2: AKHUND 3: na 4: na

Name (original script): حمید الله اخوند

Title: Mullah Designation: Head of Ariana Afghan Airlines under the Taliban regime

DOB: Approximately 1968 POB: Kandahar province, Afghanistan Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: na Nationality: Afghan Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: na Listed on: 25 Jan. 2001 (amended on 3 Sep. 2003, 9 Jul. 2007, 21 Sep. 2007) Other information: Review pursuant to Security Council resolution 1822 (2008) was concluded on 21 Jul. (Source here)


** Hamidullah was accused of the following, according to his tribunal records, a summary of which can be found here:

‘The detainee is a Taliban member and is associated with al Qaeda:

• The detainee admitted he is a member of the Taliban.

• The detainee is a former president of Ariana Airline.

• The Taliban controlled Ariana Airline.

• The Taliban used Ariana Airline to transport their members.

• Ariana Airlines provided free flights to Konduz, Afghanistan for individuals joining the fight against the Northern Alliance.

• Taliban forces utilized Ariana Airline form Kandahar to Kabul.

• An active al Qaida member and licensed pilot brought in other al Qaida members to work for Ariana Airline.

• An individual with plans to engage in hostilities against the United States had strong ties to Ariana Airlines.

• The detainee was arrested in January 2003 in Lashkargar, Afghanistan.’


Peace Rabbani