AFGHANISTAN

Elu­sive Peace

Southasia - - Front page - By Raza Khan

The peace process in Afghanistan seems to be mak­ing no head­way de­spite some ini­tial break­ing of the ice be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan govern­ment. There has been no fur­ther re­moval of names of Afghan Tal­iban com­man­ders and Shura mem­bers from the United Na­tions list of ter­ror­ists whereas the Afghan High Peace Coun­cil has also not come up with any state­ment that its mem­bers have held talks with the Afghan Tal­iban.

The only de­vel­op­ment, but of sus­pi­cious au­then­tic­ity, was the claim by an Afghan fe­male mem­ber of par­lia­ment, Huma Sul­tani, that she met the Afghan Tal­iban spir­i­tual head, Mul­lah Omar, in an ef­fort to con­vince him to come to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble and that he gave a pos­i­tive re­sponse to the in­vi­ta­tion. Noth­ing has come out of Sul­tani’s claim even af­ter two months.

On the other hand, the U.S. Am­bas­sador in Afghanistan, Ryan C. Crocker, in an in­ter­view with Reuters early last month, has taken a hawk­ish stance vis-à-vis the Tal­iban. Though such a stance is un­be­com­ing for a diplo­mat, it gives an in­sight into the minds of Amer­i­cans deal­ing with Afghanistan. Crocker said the United States must keep fight­ing the Tal­iban or risk more at­tacks like those of Septem­ber 11, 2001. Ac­cord­ing to him, the Tal­iban, whom he called ‘ruth­less en­emy,’ have not cut ties with Al Qaeda. This means that there are no peace talks cur­rently tak­ing place ei­ther di­rectly be­tween the U.S. and Tal­iban or the Tal­iban and the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion or his ap­pointed High Peace Coun­cil. This be­lies all the claims by in­ter­na­tional me­dia that ne­go­ti­a­tions for peace in Afghanistan are in an ad­vanced stage in which Mul­lah Omar is per­son­ally tak­ing part. The U.S. Am­bas­sador in Afghanistan has also claimed that Afghan Tal­iban have not sev­ered links with Al Qaeda.

Thus there could be two dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Crocker’s claim. Firstly, that he is re­ally stat­ing the truth and some ev­i­dence to sup­port it has come to his knowl­edge while work­ing in the Afghan war the­atre. Se­condly that the claim is not based on facts and is only for pub­lic con­sump- tion or aimed at pub­lic pos­tur­ing, par­tic­u­larly back home in the U.S.

The sec­ond in­ter­pre­ta­tion makes a lot of sense as diplo­matic cir­cles both in Kabul and Is­lam­abad are awash with dis­cus­sions that the U.S. wants to pro­long its pres­ence in Afghanistan be­cause there is a re­al­iza­tion in Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion that leav­ing Afghanistan desta­bi­lized would be more trou­ble­some than try­ing to bring sta­bil­ity to it even if it re­quires the sac­ri­fic­ing of more Amer­i­can soldiers and money and even if it takes more time. This means that although a Demo­crat, who has a his­tory of be­liev­ing in po­lit­i­cal ide­al­ism, Obama is drift­ing to­wards po­lit­i­cal re­al­ism, which has been the hall­mark of the Repub­li­cans. In fact, the big­gest fear on Obama’s mind re­gard­ing his Afghan war strat­egy is a back­lash of Amer­i­can pub­lic opinion which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly anti-war.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to re­al­ists like the most-revered in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal ex­pert Hans Mor­gen­thau, one way a pol­icy could be suc­cess­ful is if the leader is not swayed by pub­lic opin-

ion while pur­su­ing a pol­icy which he deems the most ap­pro­pri­ate in a sit­u­a­tion. So if for Obama the right pol­icy in Afghanistan is to keep U.S. forces there un­til a sem­blance of sta­bil­ity re­turns to the war-dev­as­tated coun­try, then from the re­al­is­tic point of view, he ought not to be ap­pre­hen­sive of the pub­lic opinion.

Af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama’s an­nounce­ment of with­drawal of all Amer­i­can troops by 2014, there is a lot of un­ease within the key U.S. in­sti­tu­tions re­gard­ing the re­turn of Tal­iban ac­com­pa­nied by Al Qaeda once the U.S. pulls out. At the same time Amer­i­can ex­perts, schol­ars, of­fi­cials and think tanks have deep reser­va­tions re­gard­ing the ca­pac­ity and abil­ity of the Afghan National Army (ANA) whose col­lec­tive num­ber has crossed 100,000 to fight the in­sur­gency and con­trol law and or­der in the coun­try. Their ap­pre­hen­sions seem to be cor­rect be­cause by now Afghan se­cu­rity forces, that have been trained by U.S. and NATO, must have de­vel­oped the courage and the skills to take on full re­spon­si­bil­ity for man­ning Afghan bor­ders and volatile parts of the coun­try. If Afghans are tra­di­tion­ally fa- mous for be­ing bril­liant fight­ers then it would be good to re­mem­ber that Afghan se­cu­rity forces per­son­nel also come from the same block.

If Crocker’s claim that the ties be­tween Afghan Tal­iban and Al Qaeda are in­tact is cor­rect then it is re­ally shock­ing. As far as this writer knows from dis­cus­sions with ex­perts and schol­ars in Afghanistan in­clud­ing those who are quite close to the Tal­iban, the lat­ter have re­al­ized that both have dif­fer­ent agen­das and are fol­low­ing a dif­fer­ent modus operandi to achieve their aims. The Tal­iban have un­equiv­o­cally de­clared that they have noth­ing to do with Al Qaeda. The Tal­iban, ever since they took this stand, have had no agenda be­yond the bor­ders of Afghanistan, clearly telling the world that they have not agreed with Al Qaeda’s mis­sion of launch­ing a global Ji­had. Against this back­drop, it is quite dif­fi­cult to ac­cept that the ties be­tween Al Qaeda and Tal­iban are in­tact.

There is no doubt that Al Qaeda has quite strong links with the Haqqani net­work of Si­raj Haqqani as the at­tack on the CIA For­ward Base in Khost prov­ince on the last day of 2009 showed. The video ev­i­dence made pub­lic by Al Qaeda af­ter­wards pro­vided am­ple tes­ti­mony of these links. How­ever, Haqqani net­work is a non-Tal­iban en­tity and keeps its independent sta­tus. For the Afghan Tal­iban it also does not make sense that they main­tain ties with Al Qaeda at this point when they are re­port­edly en­gaged in peace talks with Amer­i­can and Afghan of­fi­cials.

If the Amer­i­cans have re­ally dis­cov­ered ties be­tween the two, it means, as men­tioned ear­lier, no talks are tak­ing place or they have fallen through de­ci­sively. There­fore, Tal­iban have also deemed it ap­pro­pri­ate to re­vive ties with Al Qaeda in the man­ner things used to be dur­ing the Tal­iban regime. This in­deed would be a dan­ger­ous de­vel­op­ment. It is also pos­si­ble that af­ter the elim­i­na­tion of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and many other im­por­tant lead­ers in U.S. drone at­tacks, the ar­rest of Younus Al Mau­ri­tani in Quetta last month, Al Qaeda, as a tac­ti­cal move, may have come to the con­clu­sion that it is im­por­tant to con­cen­trate on Afghanistan and place all its man­power and ma­te­rial re­sources at the dis­posal of Afghan Tal­iban to make a last ditch ef­fort to de­feat U.S.-NATO forces. In this case the Afghan Tal­iban may have re­stored their links with Al Qaeda. Again if this has hap­pened, then in the com­ing months, a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion for Afghanistan would be­come still more dif­fi­cult to achieve.

The peace process must go on.

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