Com­plex­i­ties of Afghan chaos

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email:won­der­


has a rea­son able Sikh pop­u­la­tion in some of its ur­ban cen­tres. They share the grim sen­ti­ment of main­stream Sikh com­mu­nity and re­sent the way for­mer and in­cum­bent Pres­i­dents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani try to be­friend In­dia. They see it as some form of evolv­ing anti-Sikh nexus. Pak­istan main­tains that In­dia uses Afghan soil against Pak­istan. Kabul’s In­dia lean­ing is no se­cret. Asked about the ‘third coun­try’ un­der­min­ing Kabul-Islamabad re­la­tions, Karzai said: “It shows our weak­nesses.” He ac­knowl­edged that ‘third force’ has been in­volved in Afghanistan since long but Kabul never ‘al­lowed it to ma­te­ri­alise its dreams’. He said, “Pak­istan has right to en­sure ter­ri­tory of its neigh­bours is not used against it.”

In an­other er­ratic as­sess­ment, for­mer Afghan pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has wel­comed rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween Afghan govern­ment and Gul­budin Hek­mat­yar’s Hizb-eIs­lami. He also ap­pre­ci­ated in­cli­na­tion by Mul­lah Ra­sool’s fac­tion of Tal­iban to en­gage with Kabul.“I sup­port all steps to­wards peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Peace is the only way for sur­vival”, he said.Ashraf Ghani and Karzai may be bet­ting wrong hors for real power to un­leash or hold back field op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan rests else­where. Karzai also blamed Pak­istan’s Afghan pol­icy: Pak­istani estab­lish­ment should fo­cus on strength­en­ing friendly re­la­tions with Afghans in­stead of us­ing pres­sure tac­tics.”

While main­stream Afghan Tal­iban have re­jected im­me­di­ate direct talks with the Afghan govern­ment, the break­away Tal­iban fac­tion led by Mul­lah Muham­mad Ra­sool has ex­pressed the will­ing­ness to hold talks with the Afghan govern­ment. The Tal­iban’s spokesman, Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid, has branded Ra­sool’s fac­tion “a govern­ment army in the shape of the Tal­iban.” He claimed that Ra­sool was sup­ported by Kabul and Wash­ing­ton. When­ever prospects of peace talks be­come vis­i­ble, some in­ci­dent hap­pens to sab­o­tage the process. The Mur­ree di­a­logue was ru­ined by the sud­den dis­clo­sure of the death of Mul­lah Omar and now when there were some hopes of re­sump­tion of the di­a­logue process, the drone attack was car­ried out to kill the top leader of Afghan Tal­iban. Un­doubt­edly, the killing of Man­sour has com­pli­cated the Afghan peace process and put Pak­istan into a more dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion as it was work­ing ac­tively and vig­or­ously un­der the um­brella of Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group (QCG) to bring the Tal­iban on ne­go­ti­a­tions ta­ble.

Killing of Tal­iban leader Akhter Man­sour was a gross er­ror of judge­ment on Amer­ica’s part. He had man­aged the Tal­iban very well as proxy of Mul­lah Omar for nearly two years af­ter Omar’s death, and had suc­ceededin mak­ing them part of ne­go­ti­a­tions, till abortive sec­ond round of Mur­ree peace process. Out­break of Mul­lah Omar’s death trig­gered a war of at­tri­tion amongst var­i­ous fac­tions of Tal­iban; Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour emerged most pow­er­ful as all prom­i­nent fig­ures of Tal­iban lead­er­ship aligned be­hind him, in­clud­ing the Haqqa­nis and im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers of Mul­lah Omar. Pak­istan’s as­sess­ment has it that Man­sour was not op­posed to peace talks. His boys from Doha had all along been vis­it­ing rel­e­vant cap­i­tals for spade work in run-up to re-rail­ing of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Akhtar Man­sour had emerged as a cred­i­ble di­a­logue part­ner who could en­ter into an agree­ment and had the power as well as clout to im­ple­ment it as well. By all means, ne­go­ti­a­tions were ex­pected to be tough and Man­sour was ex­pected to con­tinue with tac­ti­cal at­tacks to aug­ment his bar­gain­ing po­si­tion. His suc­ces­sor(s) would fol­low the suit un­less en­abling CBMs are floated by Amer­ica-Afghan duo that a typ­i­cal Tal­iban supremo could sell amongst the mid­dle and lower ech­e­lons of Tal­iban lead­er­ship as well as to an over­whelm­ing num­ber of Tal­iban foot sol­diers. US of­fi­cial­had hope­dthat Man­sour’s death would elim­i­nate an ob­sta­cle to peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. The op­po­site has hap­pened.

Obama has con­ceded that there are no hopes for re­vival of peace talks in the near fu­ture. Swift se­lec­tion of a hard-line cleric as the new Tal­iban chief has sur­prised Amer­i­cans as they must be ex­pect­ing an­oth­er­round of bloody bat­tles for suc­ces­sion and then bag­ging sup­port of break­away fac­tions. Peace­ful tran­si­tion of lead­er­ship in­di­cates that or­ga­ni­za­tion has come of age. In all prob­a­bil­ity, key Tal­iban lead­ers would now go un­der­ground for se­cu­rity rea­sons and wait for new ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton. Tac­ti­cal com­man­ders are likely to con­tinue their at­tacks in ur­ban cen­tres so that en­tity staysrel­e­vant to con­flict res­o­lu­tion. At least for now, Obama is des­tined to leave de­ci­sion on how to end Amer­ica’s long­est war to his suc­ces­sor.

Pak­istan and Afghanistan dis­cussed on May 30 the fate of a fledg­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process in the af­ter­math of Man­sour’s death. Is­sue was taken up in a meet­ing be­tween Afghan Am­bas­sador in Islamabad Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal and Prime Min­is­ter’s Ad­viser on For­eign Af­fairs Sar­taj Aziz. Aziz told the Afghan en­voy that Pak­istan still be­lieved ne­go­ti­a­tions was the only vi­able op­tion to bring last­ing peace to Afghanistan. Aziz in­formed Zakhilwal that Pak­istan was (still) ready to fa­cil­i­tate talks but for that both Kabul and other stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the United States, had to give firm as­sur­ances that they would not take any uni­lat­eral ac­tion against the Tal­iban lead­er­ship.

For any peace deal to have ac­cep­tance amongst Tal­iban cadres, it ought to ra­di­ate cred­i­ble im­pres­sion that it has been clenched by Tal­iban lead­er­ship from a po­si­tion of strength. Even though back home Amer­i­cans could keep pro­ject­ing a vic­tory. And the sitting Afghan govern­ment has to be hum­ble and at the giv­ing end. And any deal to be ac­cept­able to Pak­istan must en­sure that it caters for ef­fec­tive cut offs with re­gards to In­dian in­ter­fer­ence into Pak­istan through Afghanistan.If Oba­maGhani-Modi axis is will­ing for this, a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment in Afghanistan could come by in weeks. And if peace process is a cover for sus­tain­ing chaos in Afghanistan and fa­cil­i­tat­ing In­dian spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties in Pak­istan’s ur­ban cen­tres then good luck to Amer­ica and its proxy rulers of Afghanistan. If so, then it may be time for Pak­istan to make a bold course correction— start­ing with repa­tri­a­tion of Afghan refugees and strin­gent bor­der man­age­ment. Pak­istan has it plat­ter full of other pri­or­ity is­sues.

At this point and time killing of Man­sour raises a pointed ques­tions about on which side of peace process var­i­ous ac­tors are? Does Amer­ica want peace in Afghanistan or wants to keep the pot boil­ing to add back more troops to Afghan theatre? Was the op­tion of killing Man­sour dis­cussed in the QCG meet­ing held im­me­di­ately be­fore the drone attack? Or, Is the QCG a dummy body to gain time and Amer­ica is work­ing on bi­lat­eral chan­nel with Afghan govern­ment to im­pose its own ver­sion of peace set­tle­ment by co-opt­ing dor­mant mil­i­tant Afghan en­ti­ties? Is In­dia in­stru­men­tal in de­rail­ing the Afghan peace process?

Will the Afghan Sikh com­mu­nity be­gin as­sert­ing its mi­nor­ity rights in Afghanistan? As of now one could have only par­tial an­swers to th­ese tricky ques­tions; and the con­tent could vary hugely from re­spon­dent to re­spon­dent. One thing ap­pears cer­tain about Afghanistan: pro­tur­moil lobby is quite strong, and peace in Afghanistan is a far cry! — The writer is con­sul­tant to IPRI on Pol­icy and Strate­gic Re­sponse.

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