Elu­sive Peace

Mul­lah Omar’s de­par­ture has cre­ated more con­fu­sion.

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

Con­fir­ma­tion of the news of the death of Afghan Tal­iban founder Mul­lah Omar has com­pletely changed the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sce­nario in Afghanistan. The im­me­di­ate vic­tim is the peace process be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban in­sur­gents. The death of Mul­lah Omar is go­ing to have both short and long-term con­se­quences not only for Afghanistan but also for Pak­istan.

The tim­ing of the rev­e­la­tion of the death of Mul­lah Omar by the Afghan Na­tional Direc­torate of Se­cu­rity (NDS) raised many ques­tions. The NDS re­vealed the in­for­ma­tion on the very eve of the se­cond round of peace talks be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban sched­uled to be held on July 31. It ap­pears the aim of the rev­e­la­tion of the news was to de­lib­er­ately tor­pedo the nascent peace process which shows that the elected Afghan gov­ern­ment led by Dr. Ashraf Ghani and his es­tab­lish­ment were not on the same page re­gard­ing the peace talks with the Tal­iban.

There are dif­fer­ent rea­sons for the Afghan se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence

es­tab­lish­ment to defy a paci­fistic pol­icy of Dr. Ghani. Firstly, most mem­bers of the in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment com­prise loy­al­ists of the pre-Tal­iban com­mu­nist regimes (1979-1992). Dur­ing the Tal­iban rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001) they were forced to flee or were harshly treated by the regime. Since the ouster of the Tal­iban regime, they have made a suc­cess­ful re­turn to their former po­si­tions. So suc­cess­ful peace talks of the Afghan state with the Tal­iban could be a death knell for both for­merly pro-com­mu­nist and gen­er­ally anti-Tal­iban Afghan of­fi­cials as these would pave the way for the in­sur­gent par­tak­ing in the state power. Thus this ap­proach of the Afghan es­tab­lish­ment re­gard­ing the Tal­iban rests on fears, which has kept the Afghan peace process hostage.

It must be men­tioned that in July the first round of rare peace talks be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment took place in the Pak­istani moun­tain re­sort of Mur­ree. It was the first in­stance in 14 years that the Tal­iban took part in any di­rect peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment. This flex­i­bil­ity was shown by the newly ap­pointed leader of the Tal­iban, Mul­lah Akhtar Mansur. The Tal­iban par­tic­i­pa­tion in peace talks was not only path­break­ing but con­vinced ob­servers on Afghanistan that the in­tran­si­gent Mul­lah Omar was no more there and the ru­mours of his death were cor­rect. It may be men­tioned that Mul­lah Omar died in July 2013. It is hard to be­lieve that Afghan in­tel­li­gence was un­aware of his death. How­ever, it wanted to pub­licly con­firm the death at an ap­pro­pri­ate time for it­self. It is i im­por­tant to note that there were many op­po­nents within the Tal­iban ranks to Akhtar Mansur’s peace over­tures to­wards the Afghan gov­ern­ment but he s still took the risk. How­ever, after the Afghan es­tab­lish­ment demon­strated in­sin­cer­ity to the talks process, Mansur a also re­jected fur­ther talks.

The con­fir­ma­tion of Mul­lah Omar’s death would not only tor­pedo the Afghan peace process but it would also re­sult in an all-out of­fen­sive from the Tal­iban mil­i­tants. The speed in the at­tacks soon after the break­down of the peace process cor­rob­o­rates this fact. There are rea­sons for the Tal­iban to go for the kill. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment and be­trayal by the Afghan es­tab­lish­ment greatly af­fected the clout, po­si­tion and re­spect of the Tal­iban. The large-scale at­tacks by the Tal­iban would be aimed at restor­ing the po­si­tion of strength of the Tal­iban. Sec­ondly, the new leader Akhtar Mansur needed to demon­strate to his op­po­nents that his at­tempt to give peace a chance was not his weak­ness and he was equally ca­pa­ble of fight­ing and could or­der spec­tac­u­lar at­tacks. Thirdly, large-scale at­tacks by the Tal­iban after Mul­lah Omar’s death had also be­come their com­pul­sion to de­flect the pro­pa­ganda of the Is­lamic State or ‘Daesh’.

The Mid­dle East based group founded and led by Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, has been try­ing to es­tab­lish a foothold in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. In or­der to achieve this, it had to bring the Afghan Tal­iban and par­tic­u­larly Mul­lah Omar, who was the undis­puted Amir of all re­gional Mus­lim mil­i­tants, into dis­re­pute. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the IS com­man­ders, par­tic­u­larly its cen­tral spokesman Al-Ad­nani had been mock­ing Mul­lah Omar and had dubbed him a ‘fool’ who was only pur­su­ing an Afghan na­tion­al­ist agenda in­stead of a pure Is­lamist pro­gramme which does not be­lieve in any na­tional in­ter­est or borders.

In or­der to prove the IS pro­pa­ganda against the Tal­iban and Mul­lah Omar wrong, the new leader, Akhtar Mansur, par­tic­u­larly after the fail­ure of peace talks, went for full-scale at­tacks against the Afghan gov­ern­ment. That the Tal­iban staged at­tacks and cre­ated trou­ble for the Afghan gov­ern­ment is al­ready vis­i­ble. The qual­ity and num­ber of post-Mul­lah Omar of­fen­sives by the Tal­iban are a yard­stick of their cur­rent strength and rel­e­vance for the fu­ture. The Tal­iban are es­sen­tially a mil­i­tant out­fit and have not trans­formed into a po­lit­i­cal party be­cause ei­ther they have not wanted to or have not had the time to think on those lines. To take ad­van­tage of this, the Al Qaeda head Ai­man Al Zawahiri has also come out of hi­ber­na­tion and has pledged sup­port to the new Tal­iban leader Akhtar Mansur. The Al Qaeda not only wants to pay back the Tal­iban as the lat­ter sup­ported the former in very test­ing times, but would also like to set­tle scores with its Mid­dle East­ern ri­val, the IS.

Con­fir­ma­tion of Mul­lah Omar’s death has cre­ated a rare op­por­tu­nity for the Is­lamic State to make a come­back in Afghanistan. After es­tab­lish­ing an ini­tial net­work, which was evolv­ing, the IS had to face re­verses as al­most the en­tire com­mand of its Kho­rasan Shura (or­ga­ni­za­tion for Pak­istan, Afghanistan, Cen­tral Asia and Iran) led by a Pak­istani, Hafiz Saeed (not the Hafiz Saeed of Ja­mat e Dawa), was elim­i­nated in US drone at­tacks in Nan­garhar prov­ince of Afghanistan. How­ever, it seems the death of Mul­lah Omar and the re­sult­ing power strug­gle within the Tal­iban will help the IS at­tract many com­man­ders and fight­ers as cracks have al­ready ap­peared in the Tal­iban ranks on the is­sue of peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

This will also heighten the ten­sion be­tween the Afghan Tal­iban and the IS and may lead to more bloody clashes. After Mul­lah Omar’s death, Pak­istani Tal­iban lead­ers will have lit­tle op­tion to re­main tied to the Afghan Tal­iban move­ment and may join the IS in Afghanistan. This will strengthen the IS in Pak­istan and may lead to an­other wave of deadly ter­ror­ist at­tacks in­side the coun­try.

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