Mulla Omar’s endorsement
As a matter of record, the possibility of Afghan peace parleys ever achieving a breakthrough has oscillated between hope and despair - but no more. In the wake of a meeting between the representatives of Afghan government and a Taliban delegation held in Murree on July 7 the balance seems to have tilted in favour of hope. This two-day conclave at the hill station was anything but the usual - not only for the first time the meeting was publicly acknowledged by both sides, participated by potential guarantors of faithful implementation of agreed understandings and wholeheartedly endorsed by the Taliban movement chief Mulla Omar but also clinched a decision to meet again after Ramazan. If war-wariness has taken the toll and the Afghans across the national divide want to beat their swords into ploughshares that may be the case.
But more than that what appears to have kick-started a constructive engagement between Taliban and Afghan Unity Government is the shared realisation that a victory of one over the rest is out of question. And no less a gamechanger is the reassertion of Afghan nationalistic mind to take back the space surrendered to the ideologues, whose latest appearance in the garb of selfstyled Islamic State doesn’t sit well with socio-cultural ethos of Afghan masses, as reflected by Mulla Omar’s Eid message to Taliban.
In that message he has cautioned not to be taken in by “notorious figures of our society, mercenary forces trained by foreign intelligence agencies”. And welcoming the Murree peace talks he has underscored the imperative of unity among the rank and file of Taliban. Talks with Kabul rulers, he says, are “legitimate” and an “integral part of prophetic politics”. “As our holy leader, the beloved Prophet (Peace and Blessing Be Upon Him) was actively engaged in fighting the infidels in the fields of ‘Badr and Khyber, he simultaneously participated in agreements beneficial for Muslims, held meetings with envoys of infidels, sent messages and delegations to them and on various occasions even undertook face-to-face talks with warring infidels”. That had not happened before.
The endorsement of the Murree talks by Mulla Omar is critical indeed. But no less critical is the ambience that tends to obtain now for continuation of peace talks, and, hopefully, their conclusion on a positive note. First and foremost, the Afghan delegation to the Murree parleys was fully mandated by the Taliban leadership and its composition aptly represented almost all important groups in that movement - most significant being the inclusion of Ebrahim Haqqani who is an uncle of the group’s chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
On the opposite side of the negotiating table were representatives of the Ghani-Abdullah government but also independent-minded members of the Afghan civil society and parliament. Thirdly, the Murree talks had blessings of international community, including the United States, China and the United Nations. And lastly, the talks materialized under Pakistan’s persuasive influence with Taliban and its neutral credentials in Kabul - thanks to the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s personal diplomacy.
Though the Murree meeting had no agenda on the table, the discussions do set the agenda for next meeting which may take place in Islamabad, Urumqi or Doha. Indications are that the Afghan government is open to discuss Taliban demand for amendments in the constitution, deletion of names of Taliban leaders from the UN ‘black list’ and release of Taliban leaders. However, it is not prepared for any constitutional amendment which may compromise process as envisaged. But that said the challenges to the continuation of the peace parleys cannot be trivialised. There are spoilers in and around Afghanistan, who would spare no effort to derail this process. They can be open and in sight as the Islamic State, which has a footprint in Afghanistan with some factions of Afghan Taliban being its foot soldiers, and mercenaries trained by foreign intelligence agencies as pointed out by Mulla Omar. To walk the talk one essential precondition is cease-fire and release of war prisoners; and certainly a formidable challenge. If met courageously it would greatly help the Afghan participants and their interlocutors to arrive at the common ground.