Kabul: Dignitaries on Friday paid tribute before the coffin of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber claiming to carry a message of peace from the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai, Afghan lawmakers and foreign ambassadors gathered at the presidential palace at the beginning of the funeral ceremony for Rabbani, whose casket is draped in a red, black and green national flag.
"It is our responsibility to act against those who are enemies of peace," said Karzai, who hailed Rabbani as a tireless advocate for reconciliation and "the martyr of the path of peace".
The President said Afghans should not despair over Rabbani`s death, but instead should escalate efforts to bring an end to years of fighting in Afghanistan.
"Today we are witnessing one of the biggest and saddest events of this important political time in the history of the world," said Salahuddin Rabbani, the former president`s son. He urged the Afghan government to aggressively investigate the killing.
Mourners prayed, and a military band played the national anthem. Then the casket was carried by uniformed servicemen with caps and white gloves, marching stiffly.
The ex-president headed Afghanistan`s High Peace Council, which was seeking to reconcile the nation`s warring factions. He was killed on Tuesday evening in Kabul by an assassin who visited his home under the guise of delivering a message from the insurgency.
The 70-year-old Rabbani was the leader of Afghanistan`s Northern Alliance, which helped overthrow Taliban rule during the US-led invasion in 2001. The peace council that he headed was set up by Karzai to work toward a political solution to the conflict.
It has made little headway since it was formed a year ago, but it is backed by many in the international community as helping move toward a settlement.
The suicide attacker who killed Rabbani had a bomb in his turban, and 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.
Rabbani`s death only deepens rifts between the country`s ethnic minorities, especially between those who made up the Northern Alliance — including Tajiks like Rabbani — and the majority Pashtun, who make up the backbone of the Taliban.