By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Thousands of mourners gathered in Kabul today to pay their last respects to Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president and peace negotiator with the Taliban, who was killed by a suicide bomber earlier this week.
President Hamid Karzai was among the dignitaries attending the state funeral, which took place amid tight security at the presidential palace. Most of the capital’s city center was locked down for the funeral procession.
The 70-year-old former president was assassinated at his home on September 20 by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace messenger. Rabbani will be buried at Wazir Akbar Khan hill overlooking his home in downtown Kabul.
Draped in the country’s tri-color national flag, Rabbani’s casket was carried by servicemen dressed in full military regalia. Prayers were followed by the national anthem played by a military band.
Calling Rabbani a “martyr of peace,” Karzai said his work toward bringing stability to the country must carry on.
“While we continue our efforts to achieve peace — which was our dear, martyred [Rabbani’s] dream — we take it as our responsibility that we treat the enemies of peace with assertiveness,” Karzai said.
At the ceremony, Salahuddin Rabbani, the former president’s son, said his father spent more than 50 years of his life engaged in the struggle to bring freedom and peace to Afghanistan. He called on the government to find those responsible for Rabbani’s murder.
“As associates and children of the martyr, we ask the government of Afghanistan to insistently investigate his killing,” he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) and Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim pray near Rabbani’s coffin during his funeral at the presidential palace in Kabul.
Rabbani served as the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a body tasked by Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban.
Speaking to reporters a day before the funeral, Karzai said Rabbani had cut short a foreign visit to listen to a peace message purportedly by the Taliban high command. Rabbani was killed upon receiving the messenger — a suicide bomber — at his home.
No group has claimed responsibility for the assassination. The Taliban has issued a “no comment.”
Born in 1940 in northern Badakhshan Province, Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, was an Islamic scholar turned politician. He studied Islamic law and philosophy at universities in Kabul and Cairo.
Rabbani became a leading mujahedin figure during the guerrilla war against the communist regime in Kabul and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
He was Afghanistan’s president from 1992 to 1996, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, and then again for a short period of time in 2001.
Rabbani was among the senior political members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance formed in 1996.
Human Rights Watch once named Rabbani as one of a number of senior Afghan leaders who may have committed war crimes that killed or displaced thousands of Afghans during the country’s civil war in the early 1990s.