Afghan peace process and ulema

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - S Iftikhar Mur­shed

THE joint state­ment en­cap­su­lat­ing the out­come of the visit to Is­lam­abad from Novem­ber 12 to 15 of the Afghan High Peace Coun­cil del­e­ga­tion led by its chair­man, Salahud­din Rab­bani, is sat­u­rated with su­per­fi­cial for­mu­la­tions. Had the two sides taken the trou­ble to re­visit im­por­tant events from the days of Tal­iban-con­trolled Afghanistan they would have re­alised the im­por­tance of the ulema (cler­ics) in Afghan peace ini­tia­tives. Clause seven of the com­mu­niqué pro­claims that an agree­ment had been reached on con­ven­ing an in­ter­na­tional ulema con­fer­ence to con­demn sui­cide at­tacks, project Is­lam as “a glo­ri­ous and peace­ful” re­li­gion, and reaf­firm that it was a hideous trav­esty to equate it with ter­ror­ism. But such meet­ings have been held be­fore, the most im­por­tant be­ing the Mardin Con­fer­ence in Turkey on March 2728, 2010, in which nei­ther Afghanistan nor Pak­istan both­ered to par­tic­i­pate.

The pro­posed ulema meet­ing merely for reaf­firm­ing the “glo­ri­ous” teach­ings of Is­lam is un­nec­es­sary. It is as point­less as at­tempt­ing to gild the lily or fram­ing a Renoir to en­hance its beauty. Far more im­por­tant for end­ing the Afghan con­flict is a meet­ing of cler­ics rep­re­sent­ing all the war­ring fac­tions. This was agreed upon by the Tal­iban and the North­ern Al­liance in 1998. Had the chair­man of the High Peace Coun­cil given some thought to this, he would have re­alised how closely his late fa­ther, Burhanud­din Rab­bani, had been in­volved in this process. The back­ground could be in­struc­tive be­cause the con­cept is still rel­e­vant for pre-empt­ing un­par­al­leled vi­o­lence af­ter the with­drawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

In mid-Oc­to­ber 1997, the chair­man of the Tal­iban rul­ing coun­cil, Mul­lah Rab­bani, vis­ited Pak­istan and in­formed us that the Tal­iban would agree to a di­a­logue in Is­lam­abad with the North­ern Al­liance, on con­di­tion that all its lead­ers par­tic­i­pated. Two months later, on De­cem­ber 23, Burhanud­din Rab­bani ar­rived in Is­lam­abad and this was a land­mark event as it was the first of­fi­cial visit to Pak­istan by the leader of the North­ern Al­liance since the cap­ture of Kabul by the Tal­iban.

Rab­bani was ac­cord­ingly briefed about the Tal­iban of­fer, and his re­sponse was that it would be dif­fi­cult for the en­tire lead­er­ship of the north­ern coali­tion to leave their re­spec­tive ar­eas for an ex­tended pe­riod. But they could at­tend the in­au­gu­ral and clos­ing ses­sions leav­ing the ac­tual ne­go­ti­a­tions to their des­ig­nated rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who would be vested with full pow­ers.

With this as­sur­ance, former for­eign sec­re­tary Shamshad Ah­mad and I flew to Kan­da­har on De­cem­ber 28 where we had a two-and-a-half hour meet­ing with Mul­lah Omar. The self-styled amir-ul-mom­i­neen of Afghanistan ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Pak­istan’s peace ef­forts and af­firmed his own com­mit­ment to the same ob­jec­tive. How­ever, he voiced se­ri­ous con­cern about the North­ern Al­liance’s lack of sin­cer­ity as he was con­vinced that their only ob­jec­tive was to usurp power.

In def­er­ence to our im­pas­sioned ap­peal for flex­i­bil­ity, he pro­posed that the ulema from the north and the Tal­iban-con­trolled ar­eas should meet in Is­lam­abad to sort out the prob­lems of Afghanistan in ac­cor­dance with Is­lamic law. He ex­plained that in his coun­try cler­ics had tra­di­tion­ally played a vi­tal role in re­solv­ing dif­fer­ences as their opin­ions and de­ci­sions had re­li­gious sanc­tion. We jet­ted back to Is­lam­abad in time for a sec­ond meet­ing with Burhanud­din Rab­bani be­fore his de­par­ture for Meshed. His knee-jerk re­ac­tion to Mul­lah Omar’s pro­posal was that the Tal­iban were treach­er­ous and did not want a peace­ful set­tle­ment in Afghanistan. I told him that the cler­ics of Kan­da­har had sim­i­lar mis­giv­ings about the North­ern Al­liance. There had to be pos­i­tive think­ing on both sides of the Afghan po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­cause the hopes of the fu­ture could not be built on the wounds of the past. He re­sponded that a list of the ulema from the north would be sent to the Tal­iban within three days and sug­gested that the meet­ing be held around Jan­uary 20, 1998.

Three months down the line, dur­ing a break­fast meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif in Is­lam­abad on March 24, Mul­lah Rab­bani told us that the ulema list of the North­ern Al­liance was a joke. It con­sisted of mil­i­tary com­man­ders who knew noth­ing about Is­lam. To work round the im­passe, he sug­gested the es­tab­lish­ment of a steer­ing com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of five to seven mem­bers each from the Tal­iban and the North­ern Al­liance.

The com­mit­tee, he elab­o­rated, would fi­nalise a list of the ulema, set a date for the con­fer­ence, de­lib­er­ate upon invit­ing the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.