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Slain ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani: Snapshots of Afghanistan's tortured political history

Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed today in Kabul, reportedly by a suicide attacker who hid a bomb in his turban. As the pictures below only partially illustrate, Rabbani had a storied history in Afghanistan's labyrinthine political scene. Most recently, he was leading the Kabul government's efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban--the same folks who overthrew his government in 1996. That, and previous points in his career, demonstrate exactly how unstable political relations in (and with) Afghanistan can be.

Here's a picture-within-a-picture of Rabbani in 1980:

Jacques Langevin / AP

Mujahedeen rebels in Afghanistan are shown pasting together a poster of Dr. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of Jamiat-e-Islami, (Islamic Society of Afghanistan) in Herat, Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 1980.

As a mujahideen leader during the war with the Soviets, Rabbani led some factions of anti-Soviet fighters, with military and financial aid from the United States. Before that, as a teacher at Kabul University and leader of the Muslim Youth Organization, he was a key figure in bringing strains of militant Islam into Afghanistan, according to Steve Coll's excellent Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.

Rabbani was also a guest of President Ronald Reagan at the White House:

Doug Mills / AP

President Ronald Reagan meets with the current chairman of the Afghanistan Resistance Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in the Oval Office, Nov. 9, 1988.

According to a brief item in the next day's edition of The Los Angeles Times, Reagan asked Rabbani not to do anything that would give the Soviet Union an excuse to stay in Afghanistan past their withdrawal deadline. Rabbani would not agree:

The leader of the Afghan resistance, maintaining that the Soviets "do not want peace," rejected the Reagan Administration's counsel of restraint and vowed to keep fighting as long as Soviet forces remain in Afghanistan.

The Soviets did, of course, pull out on deadline, on Feb. 15, 1989.

Jump to 1996, and Rabbani isn't meeting with Reagan. He's meeting instead with militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: 

Abdullah / AP

Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, left, greets his former enemy and new prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar at Hekmatyar's swearing-in ceremony in Kabul Wednesday, June 26, 1996. The new Rabbani-Hekmatyar alliance ended four years of feuding that destroyed much of the Afghan capital of Kabul and killed more than 25,000 people.

Hekmatyar is no Taliban, but he is currently leading one of the factions fighting against American, coalition, and Afghan National forces. The BBC has called him "one of the most controversial figures in modern Afghan history." It's a testament to the complexities of Afghan politics that Hekmatyar, a guy who reportedly sprayed acid on female university students in Western dress, can be called "controversial" by the BBC. As opposed to just "evil." (Hekmatyar also once took a shot at Rabbani, according to a 1988 report from the NBC News archives).

It wasn't much later in 1996 that the Taliban captured Kabul, and Rabbani was in exile--until the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance took the capital after 9/11. Rabbani, still widely recognized as the legitimate Afghan president, was quickly back in the frame:

Brennan Linsley / AP file

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani emerges from the Pul-e-Khishti mosque after Friday prayers, surrounded by United Front bodyguards and supporters, in the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Nov. 23, 2001. The Taliban forced him into exile when they came to power in 1996. Rabbani, whose party is effectively running Kabul, said Sunday, Nov. 25, 2001, that he was prepared to hand over power as soon the leading Afghan factions agree on an interim government.

Rabbani ultimately did support the new government of Hamid Karzai, who ended up having his own photo op with an American president today, after Rabbani was killed:

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai during a bilateral meeting September 20, 2011 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Karzai is cutting short his visit to the United States following the killing of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani who was leading Taliban peace efforts, officials said.

Here's what President Obama said, according to our story from Reuters:

"It is a tragic loss," Obama said with Karzai at his side. "We both believe that despite this incident, we will not be deterred from creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom, safety and security and prosperity ....

"It is going to be important to continue the efforts to bring all of the elements in Afghanistan society together to end the senseless cycle of violence," he said.

We also have the full video of Obama and Karzai's joint remarks about Rabbani's death. And NBC's Jim Maceda, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan, has this post over at WorldBlog: Taliban flex muscles with Afghan assassination

Also available: More PhotoBlog posts about Afghanistan, and more posts From the Archive. For historical NBC News video from Afghanistan, see the WorldBlog post Deja vu in the Afghanistan tape archives.