Officials: 2 Held In Death Of Afghan Peace Broker

Published February 10, 2012 6:00PM (EST)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Pakistan has arrested two people in connection with last year's assassination of a former Afghan president who was trying to broker peace with the Taliban, two Afghan government officials said Friday.

The officials said that the two were detained in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the alleged base of the Taliban insurgency.

The police chief in Quetta and the spokesman for the region's paramilitary Frontier Corps said they had not heard of the alleged arrests. Officials with Pakistan's foreign and interior ministries did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.

Relations with Pakistan soured after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's former president and head of the government-appointed peace council. Rabbani was killed Sept. 20, 2011, in his home in Kabul by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

Afghan officials blamed Pakistan-based insurgents for the killing, which sapped hope for reconciling with the Taliban and raised fears about deteriorating security in Afghanistan just as foreign combat troops are starting to pull out.

Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi went further, claiming in parliament that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was involved in the killing. Pakistani officials denied the allegation, calling it baseless and irresponsible.

A special commission that Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed to investigate Rabbani's death concluded that the attack was planned in Quetta and that the primary assailant was a Pakistani citizen. The commission gave Pakistani authorities the names, addresses and phone numbers of people in Pakistan suspected of being involved in plotting the assassination.

One of the two Afghan officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive case, said two individuals were arrested in Quetta last week. The other official said the two were on the list of possible suspects handed to Pakistani authorities last year.

The assassin, who hid explosives in his turban, gained entry to the former president's home by convincing officials, including Karzai's advisers, that he represented the Taliban leadership and wanted to discuss reconciliation.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, and Taliban spokesmen have declined to discuss it.

In a separate development, Afghan officials and the U.S.-led coalition were investigating an airstrike that Karzai said killed eight civilians in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan.

Civilian casualties have caused serious tensions between the Afghan government and NATO.

The coalition confirmed only that there was a "situation in Najrab district" of Kapisa province that was being assessed. More information would be released when the assessment is completed, the coalition said in a statement.

A delegation of high-ranking officials appointed by Karzai traveled to Kapisa province on Friday to collect information.

Hussain Khan Sanjani, the leader of the Kapisa provincial council, said seven of the victims were children, aged between 6 and 12 years. The eighth victim was an 18-year-old mentally ill man who was with the children.

Sanjani, who visited the area on Thursday, said residents told him that coalition aircraft were patrolling overhead as coalition forces searched homes.

Fearing the presence of coalition forces, the victims rounded up sheep and cows and moved them toward a mountainous area behind their homes, he said. When they got cold, they gathered brush and lighted a fire to keep warm, he said. One airstrike hit a large boulder and the other struck the victims, who were badly burned, according to Sanjani, who said he took photographs of the victims.

Also, a coalition service member died following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan Friday.

The coalition did not disclose details about the death or the nationality of the service member killed. So far this year, 36 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, according to an AP tally.


Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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