By Mahmoud Habboush
SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) - Just days before he died when a Taliban militant detonated a bomb hidden in his turban, Burhanuddin Rabbani was trying to persuade Islamic scholars to issue a religious edict banning suicide bombings.
The former president's 29-year-old daughter said in an interview that her father died shortly after he spoke at a conference on "Islamic Awakening" in Tehran.
"Right before he was assassinated, he talked about the suicide bombing issue," Fatima Rabbani, who had watched a replay of her father's speech on television, told Reuters. "He called on all Islamic scholars in the conference to release a fatwa. You know: in Islam killing yourself is forbidden."
Several Taliban officials were present at the two-day event which brought together some 600 Islamic scholars. Rabbani did not sit with them at the same table.
A former leader of a powerful mujahideen party during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Rabbani was chosen last October by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to head the High Peace Council, created to negotiate peace with the Taliban.
Fatima, who had lived in the United Arab Emirates since 1997, said she was planning to set up a foundation in her father's memory to teach young Afghans that killing civilians contradicted Islamic values.
"We're thinking to basically raise awareness and teach Afghans the real Islam, something that my father had always encouraged the youth to do," she said, sitting next to her brother, Shuja, in their family's villa in an affluent neighborhood in the UAE emirate Sharjah.
Rabbani, was the most prominent surviving leader of the ethnic Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance of fighters and politicians that drove the Taliban from Kabul in 2001. He served as president in the 1990s when rival mujahideen factions waged war for control of the country after the Soviet withdrawal.
PEACE WAS POSSIBLE
Fatima, who is doing a Masters degree in post conflict studies and development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (SOAS), said those who plotted her father's death wanted to cripple peace efforts.
"Killing my father sent out a really loud message, very loud and clear to us that they do not want peace," she said, adding that Rabbani had said after meeting Pashtun leaders in Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban movement, that the "idea of peace was very possible."
"He spent 45 to 50 years of his life just devoted to Afghanistan, to bring peace to Afghanistan," Fatima said.
It was unclear how far his efforts to make peace with the Taliban went. Fatima said he had suggested to her that the majority of Afghan Taliban were keen to join the process, but the Pakistani branch of the group opposed it.
"They are kind of in a lose-lose situation where they want to join the peace process but at the same time if they do, they won't be supported by the Pakistan Taliban," she said.
Her brother, Shuja, 30, said some Taliban elements wanted to block the peace talks when they saw a growing interest among the group's members to reintegrate into Afghani society.
"They must have reached such a point of desperation that they had to carry out an assassination at this level to just try and put a stop to this process altogether," said Shuja, who works at Afghanistan's central bank.
Shuja, who was at home when Rabbani was killed but was unharmed, said Pakistan was refusing to cooperate in the assassination probe, a decision he criticized. Islamabad has rejected allegations that its spy agency was behind the killing.
"If the Pakistan government believes that things don't lead to their soil then why avoid Afghan cooperation with them?" Shuja said. "To so blatantly avoid any kind of cooperation, that just raises so more questions."
(Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Peter Graff)