In the aftermath of recent attacks in Kabul like the assault on the Intercontinental Hotel and the strike on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, the Taliban has rushed to proudly claim responsibility for the violence--even while the U.S. blames the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. But in the wake of yesterday's assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, the man spearheading the Afghan government's efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban, something curious is happening: Taliban officials are sounding uncharacteristically cautious and issuing conflicting reports about whether they killed Rabbani. As NATO's Twitter feed, which engaged in a flame war with the Taliban last week, marveled today, "Taliban avoiding comment? Usually much to say, but now?"
The Taliban sounded like its usual self yesterday, when Reuters quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as claiming responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by a suicide bomber who pretended to be interested in talks. "As soon as Rabbani came three steps forward to hug Mohammad Masoom, he triggered his explosive-filled jacket killing Rabbani," Mujahid was quoted as saying. But Taliban official Abdulqahar Balkhi later denied the report on Twitter, noting that Mujahid had rejected the "claims of Reuters" and had said "nothing" about Rabbani's death yet. "Our information is not complete regarding the matter," an emailed statement issued in the name of Mujahid declared, dismissing the "baseless" Reuters report. "We don't want to say anything about this at the moment." In a follow-up report, Reuters claimed that a man with Mujahid's voice and telephone number claimed that the Taliban was responsible for the attack in three separate calls with a reporter in Pakistan on Tuesday and Wednesday (the news agency adds that a senior Taliban commander operating inside Afghanistan also confirmed that claim).