Peace spoilers in Afghanistan

24 May

Mohammad Jamil

It is in the interest of all ethnic groups to find a common ground for power sharing to make Afghanistan peaceful, which is also in the interest of Pakistan, and the region at large.

The Taliban’s refusal to participate in the dialogue with the Afghan government till its conditions are met is a blow to international efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged country. The conditions are withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, reversal of sanctions by the UN on Taliban leaders and release of prisoners. The Taliban spokesman further said that talks could not be held while Afghan forces continue their attacks. The problem is that there are splits in Afghan government, and also within Taliban factions on the question of peace process that hinders any progress. Addressing a function at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan claimed the other day that there was no dispute between Kabul and Islamabad but the relations between the two neighboring countries were affected due to lack of trust. Nevertheless, Afghanistan should act against Fazlullah and his thugs to remove the trust deficit.

In response to a question, Zakhilwal said there were some elements on both sides of the border involved in sabotaging the peace process in Afghanistan. In a way it is a positive statement, as earlier Afghanistan has been accusing Pakistan of providing safe haven to militants or for sabotaging the peace process. Allegedly, the Indian RAW and elements in Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), which had joined hands during the Karzai era, continue with their activities, and, at the same time, berating Pakistan through propaganda about its meddling in Afghan affairs. Yet Islamabad hierarchy has not tried to nail their canards. Americans and their allies had invaded Afghanistan to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and if they failed to corral the militant Taliban and al-Qaeda groups in Afghanistan and decimate them, it was they who had to be in the dock, not Pakistan.

But Islamabad hierarchy instead of being on the offensive is always on the defensive. It merely mumbled when the CIA, not-so-imperceptibly, had allegedly ganged up with RAW to incite militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas, insurgency in Balochistan, and terrorism and subversion in the country’s various parts including Karachi. At its service, allegedly, the gang had NDS, which the CIA had cloned as a subsidiary for operations in and out of Afghanistan. The shenanigans of this gang were no secret, as by 2004, it is said, it had visibly pushed out Pakistani intelligence outfits from the tribal areas, got the government functionaries and Maliks killed in FATA through Baitullah Mehsud. Balochistan was humming with very disturbing activities being carried out, yet none in governmental hierarchy spoke of it. Only recently, Pakistan foreign office said that it submitted dossiers of Indian hand in acts of terrorism in Pakistan to the UN and the US.

The US has acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts in dismantling the infrastructure and networks of militants of all hues and shades including the Haqqani network. It is by weakening them that Pakistan has been able to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. On 3rd March 2016, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who led Pakistani delegation at the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue at Washington, reportedly admitted before a think tank forum the presence of some Taliban leaders and their families. Maybe Aziz should have worded it differently, as this was contrary to the earlier position taken by Pakistan. Perhaps he wished to prove Pakistan’s relevance, and the influence it has over the Taliban. He made it clear that Pakistan could use its leverage up to some extent, and that Afghan government should not espouse hopes that Pakistan could force the Taliban to accept the conditions and terms of Afghan government.

Let there be no confusion that there is more than one group of Taliban, including two main factions headed by Mullah Mansoor and Mullah Rasool. The Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and many commanders are in favour of holding talks with the Afghan government. Nonetheless in case Mullah Mansoor gives any concessions to the government, the other group would accuse it of infidelity to the Taliban cause. It should be borne in mind that the Taliban leaders who are in Doha, Pakistan or elsewhere, do not have as much control as the commanders who are fighting on the ground and holding the fort. Since there are pro and anti-negotiations groups in the Taliban as well as in Afghan government, the pro-Indian lobby and the TTP thugs are inclined to use the Daesh franchise or brand to showcase its strength and throw spanner in the works.

So far as Pakistan is concerned, it had taken the risk of annoying the Taliban when for the first time in 2015 it had publicly denounced Taliban’s spring offensive, urged them to cease hostilities and engage in peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Furthermore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had categorically stated that enemies of Afghanistan were enemies of Pakistan, without any exception. Pakistani military and civilian leaders have thrown all support behind President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to bring peace to his war-ravaged country. It appears that Afghan government had pinned high hopes on Pakistan that it would use its influence to bring the Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and make them accept Afghan government’s conditions. Afghan expectations that Pakistan holds the key to end the violence in Afghanistan are unrealistic, and they should appreciate the efforts Pakistan has put into place to bring the Taliban on the negotiating table.

Taliban fighters and commanders have considerable presence, rather control, not only in the south and east but also in the far-flung areas in north. Elements in Northern Alliance would not like to see any agreement with the Taliban for sharing of power. Nevertheless, it is in the interest of all ethnic groups to find a common ground for power sharing to make Afghanistan peaceful, stable and sovereign, which is also in the interest of Pakistan, and the region at large. It is hoped that both the Afghan government and the Taliban would start the dialogue without forcing their conditions, and the matter could be resolved through give-and-take. It has to be remembered that in the past all rulers in Afghanistan were Pashtuns, except once for a brief period in 1929 when Habibullah alias Bacha-e-Saqa, a Tajik, and second time from 1992 to 1996, Burhanuddin Rabbani, again a Tajik ruled Afghanistan.

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