There are two critical, but inter-related developments of the past two days which rekindle hope for settlement of Afghanistan problem according to the wishes of Afghan people. However, theses developments will come to a naught if increasing influence of India in Afghanistan is not checked. Newsweek has claimed that Afghan Taliban who have always considered al Qaeda as a baggage are keen to delink themselves and their armed struggle from the terror network. This indicates that the Taliban have finally decided to play their role in Afghanistan’s future through dialogue with all the stakeholders including the occupation forces led by the US. This analysis is further confirmed by related development that Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban’s former second in command who is in detention in Pakistan in a move which could help rekindle stalled peace talks with the insurgents, according to senior officials from both countries.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban but its decision to grant access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may signal Islamabad’s willingness to play a more active role. Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an architect of peace-building efforts, said an Afghan delegation had met Baradar in Pakistan two months ago. Baradar has been in detention since he was captured in a joint operation by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence agents in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.
What will be the fate of Mullah Baradar and how will al Qaeda react to this development is yet to be seen but if the past developments are any guide, the terrorist network will not approve of any peace initiative and will move to teach deadly lesson to anyone who has an iota of desire for a negotiated settlement of Afghan issue.
Newsweek has narrated the story of one Taliban leader, Agha Jan Motasim who has been talking of political solution and disrupting long-standing ties between Taliban and al Qaeda. He was warned by al Qaeda to desist from talking peace and finally was attacked. He barely survived. According to the analysis, the road to peace is filled with potholes and obstacles, and the biggest of all is al Qaeda. There may be some room for interpretation in Washington’s other two demands—that the Taliban renounce violence and accept the Afghan Constitution—but the third, severing of all ties with al Qaeda, is flatly nonnegotiable. Unless Omar’s group completely severs its ties to al Qaeda, the war in Afghanistan will continue indefinitely, regardless of the promised withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 2014. The worry is that the Taliban might prove equally unwavering. Out of pride, Islamist ideology, or simple fear, Mullah Omar could be willing to lose everything once again for al Qaeda’s sake, just as he did after 9/11, when he rejected the advice of both his cabinet and his senior religious council to avert the otherwise inevitable U.S. invasion by expelling Osama bin Laden.
The problem, however, is that the Taliban are still technically dependent on al Qaeda for making bombs and IEDs and planning sophisticated attacks, particularly in the cities. But on the whole, the jihadi group’s surviving members are more of a liability than an asset to the Afghan insurgents, constantly depending on them for protection and sustenance. Most Taliban commanders and fighters inside Afghanistan would be only too glad to see the last of bin Laden’s men. Drone attacks and relentless pursuit by U.S. forces have reduced the foreign jihadis’ presence to small roving bands of seven to 10 Arabs and Pakistanis, mostly from the tribal areas, as well as a few from the Punjab. But those remnants continue to pose nothing but trouble for their Afghan hosts, behaving almost as if they want to antagonize everyone in sight. Among other things, the hardline Wahhabis have a habit of mocking local customs as supposedly un-Islamic and of preventing villagers from praying at the shrines of Sufi saints.
The Taliban have tasted the bitter pill of al Qaeda’s friendship during the last two decade because bin Laden proved to be a most untrustworthy ally. Having called so many foreign fighters to his side, he felt free to do as he pleased. Ignoring Omar’s protests, he hosted press conferences at his bases in eastern Afghanistan at which he delivered inflammatory anti-Western diatribes, such as his August 1996 declaration of war against America. At the same time, the terrorist leader seems to have given his hosts no clue that he was using their country as a planning center for attacks against the West. In the wake of 9/11, Omar didn’t know what to do with bin Laden.
Al Qaeda has inflicted much harsher punishments on former allies who have incurred its wrath. Mullah Nazir, one of the group’s most loyal friends among the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan decided a few years ago that he could no longer tolerate the brutality of the al Qaeda contingent based in his area. The foreigners, mostly ethnic Uzbeks and Chechens, had been abusing local villagers, even imprisoning some in deep pits. Nazir finally ordered his men to drive the jihadis out of the area, and dozens of the thugs were killed. The terrorist group’s revenge was swift. Its gunmen attempted to kill Nazir and succeeded in killing several of his top commanders, along with dozens of villagers, whose bodies were dumped in caves.
Pakistan has always tried to have a stable and peaceful Afghanistan and has had access to Afghan Taliban in order to wield its influence for the future peace in Afghanistan. This could be the reason that both the Taliban and Pakistani forces never attacked each other. TTP, however, is a different story and is known to have links with anti-Pakistan elements in India and Afghanistan. With the latest development where Pakistan has played a critical role in bridging the gap between Afghan government, Pakistan has achieved a moral high ground and vindicated its long-standing position of not attacking the Taliban under the US pressure. However, the peace in Afghanistan is still a far cry. Increased influence of India in Afghanistan will be a catalyst in perpetuating the chaos because despite their recent reported overtures to India, the Taliban will not accept Indian influence in Afghanistan.
- To Unfriend Al Qaeda (thedailybeast.com)
- Pakistan grants Afghan officials access to a top Taliban leader (csmonitor.com)