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.