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Karzai Downplays Peace Hopes As Afghans Cite Pakistani Links To Rabbani Killers

Supporters of slain former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani shout slogans and hold up his portrait during a protest against the Taliban and Pakistan in Kabul on September 27.
A videotaped speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reiterated his office's recent suggestions that Kabul was abandoning efforts at direct peace talks with Taliban militants, pointing a finger for instability instead at neighbor Pakistan.

In his speech, Karzai blamed the recent killing of High Peace Council head Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president who was aggressively pursuing the reconciliation effort that Karzai had espoused in recent years.

The news came as Afghanistan's interior minister said the mastermind of the Rabbani killing, allegedly Hameedullah Akhondzada, had been arrested.

Karzai also said that since he "cannot find Mullah Mohammad Omar" and "cannot find the Taliban council," that "I don't have any other answer except to say that the other side for this negotiation is Pakistan."

Much of the Taliban's leadership is thought to be living in Pakistan.

"Pakistan did nothing to destroy terrorist strongholds, allowing them to train in its territory," Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office earlier in the week, according to Reuters. "And now, if the Taliban is being the ISI, then Afghanistan has to talk with Pakistan and not the Taliban."

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's intelligence agency said it had handed over to Pakistan evidence that the Taliban's leadership plotted the Rabbani assassination on Pakistani territory.

Rabbani's death was regarded as a serious blow to a delicate process to help the region escape years of bloody insurgency.

Kabul has for years criticized Islamabad for doing too little to prevent cross-border operations by armed opponents of Afghanistan's central government.

"Without any doubt Pakistan's ISI [Inter-Services Intelligency] hand has been involved," Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi told Afghan lawmakers on October 1. "We have detained Hameedullah Akhondzada, who confessed that it was nothing but a plot."

Mohammadi said a fact-finding mission was leaving for Pakistan to investigate further, and Islamabad had been given a list of those involved.

A spokeswoman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, Tehmina Janjua, said Pakistan had not received any information although Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had conveyed to Karzai an offer of cooperation in the investigation.

Pressure has mounted on Islamabad over alleged ties between the Pakistani intelligence community and terror groups.

Last week, U.S. officials accused Pakistan's spy agency of assisting Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in attacks on Western targets. Relations have been particularly strained since U.S. forces found and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hiding out near a prestigious Pakistani military academy in early May.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the UN General Assembly recently that her country is committed to helping achieve peace in neighboring Afghanistan, and to cooperating with the governments of Afghanistan and the United States to attain this goal.

compiled from Reuters, RFE/RL, and other agency reports

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