Afghan peace negotiator shot dead

An Afghan National Army soldier patrols the gate of a military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 13, 2012. 2012. Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban official turned Afghan peace negotiator, was in his vehicle when he was killed by an unknown attacker in another vehicle in western Kabul earlier Sunday. AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

(AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - An assassin armed with a silenced pistol shot dead a top member of the Afghan peace council Sunday at a traffic intersection in the nation's capital, police said. The killing strikes another blow to efforts to negotiate a political resolution to the decade-long war.

Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban official who reconciled with the government and was active in trying to set up formal talks with the insurgents. His assassination follows that of the council's head last year.

He was shot at an intersection in western Kabul by a gunman in a white Toyota Corolla while being driven to his office, said Mohammad Zahir, head of the city police's criminal investigation division. He did not have a bodyguard with him at the time.

"Only one shot was fired," Zahir said. "Our initial reports are that it was a pistol with a silencer. Rahmani died on the way to the hospital." Zahir said an investigation was under way.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the killing, although they had earlier indicated that they would target peace negotiators.

Rahmani was one of about 70 influential Afghans and former Taliban appointed by President Hamid Karzai to the council to try to convince insurgent leaders to reconcile with the government.

The Taliban have refused to have direct contact with the council, which they consider to be an organ of Karzai's government. They have said publicly in the past that they do not want to negotiate with Karzai or his administration, which they consider a puppet of the United States.

Privately, however, some representatives of the Taliban who are open to negotiating a settlement have met with U.S., Afghan and other international officials. Rahmani, along with other members of the peace council, was trying to forge relations with those Taliban amenable to peace talks.

It was unclear if a faction within the Taliban opposed to negotiations could have been responsible for the shooting.

The U.S. has backed the council's efforts to pull the Taliban into political discussions with Kabul as part of its strategy for reducing violence and turning over responsibility to Afghan forces so international combat troops can go home or move into support roles by the end of 2014.

But this effort suffered a major setback in September 2011 when former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was head of the peace council, was assassinated by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban. Kabul blames Pakistan-based leaders of the Taliban for his killing, though the Taliban denies this.

The U.S. has its own contacts with the Taliban, but in March the militant organization said they were suspending contacts with the United States over what they said was a lack of progress in releasing Taliban prisoners from U.S. detention in Guantanamo.

The last substantive discussions between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives were in January, and both initiatives to build trust and move toward real peace talks are in limbo.

A year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was launching a "diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome."

The alternative to a political resolution is a protracted conflict that neither the war-weary Afghans, Americans or Europeans want or can afford.

On Twitter, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul called the assassination of another peace council member "a tragedy."

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