Where are Taliban entrenched?


Sultan M Hali

AFGHAN President Dr Ashraf Ghani lashed out at Pakistan parroting his host Narendra Modi, the hardliner Indian Premier during the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference at Amritsar on December 4, 2016. Modi’s vitriolic venom against Pakistan was to be expected, especially after his failure to formally target Pakistan at Goa during the BRICS summit because China and Russia obstructed Modi’s machinations against Pakistan. Modi’s declared policy is to target Pakistan to divert attention from Indian atrocities against the Muslims in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and also from the BJP govt’s failures. At Amritsar Modi found an ardent pupil in Ashraf Ghani to assail Pakistan and blame it for sponsoring terrorism.
Ashraf Ghani has his own skeletons in the cupboard, fissures in the unity govt, high level of alleged corruption by his officials and most prominently, the lack of control of the Afghan national Army to check the onslaught of the Taliban. To hide these glaring weaknesses, Ashraf Ghani, his co-partner in the Unity Govt and the officials of the Afghan intelligence, The National Directorate of Security (NDS) find it prudent to deflect the blame on Pakistan. Both Modi and Ashraf Ghani fired broadsides at Pakistan, making direct and hard references finding it opportune to blame Pakistan for “cross-border terrorism”, and providing “sanctuaries for terror groups”.
In fact Pakistan military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been very successful and leaders of Taliban, both Afghan and Pakistan have been forced to flee. Pak Army has been claiming this achievement but it was looked upon with skepticism, however, international media agencies are now confirming that Taliban have found safe havens in Afghanistan. Analysts on US TV Channel Fox News have stated quoting Taliban spokespersons state that Taliban leaders have been based in Pakistani cities, including Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar, since their rule in Afghanistan was overthrown in 2001 US invasion after 9/11 attacks.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah confirmed that leadership shura, or council, relocated to Afghanistan “some months ago,” although he declined to divulge location for obvious reasons. Analysts opine that after operating out of Pakistan for more than a decade, leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement may have moved back to their homeland to try to build on this year’s gains in the war and to establish a permanent position. The move would be a sign of the Taliban’s confidence in their fight against US-backed government in Kabul, where the Taliban have gained an upper hand. Taliban sources also state that the justice, recruitment and religious councils had also moved to southern Afghanistan.
Quoting a Taliban official, Fox TV has informed that the shura had moved to southern Helmand province, which the insurgents consider to be part of their heartland and where most of the opium that funds their operations is produced. The official refused to be identified because of security constraints. President Ashraf Ghani’s government is negating the report of Afghan Taliban establishing their headquarters back to Afghanistan because it would lose the leverage of blaming Pakistan for all its woes as well as gain brownie points with India. The NDS, which is infested with Indian security agency RAW operatives and takes its diktat from New Delhi, would prefer to maintain pressure on Islamabad, casting aspersions that Pakistan supports terrorism.
Independent observers opine that Kabul officials were aware of the moves, prompted by battlefield gains that the insurgents believed would put them in a strong position once talks with the Afghan government aimed at ending the war were restarted. Dialogue broke down last year when NDS and RAW, sabotaged the peace process being brokered by Pakistan by revealing that Taliban leader Mullah Omar was dead for over two years. Later, efforts of the quadrilateral group comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and US, to bring about peace also met a dead end because of Afghan obduracy perhaps at Indian insistence to reduce Pakistan’s influence over peace talks.
The fresh initiative of China, Pakistan and Russia to evolve a trilateral group to discuss peace sounded promising but Kabul raised a hue and cry that it was being left out in the cold. The group has had two rounds of trilateral talks but the proceedings were not reported in the media, nor announced. The third round of talks, held on December 27, 2016, were announced in advance apparently because the trilateral group has established rapport amongst its participants to play an effective role for achieving peace in Afghanistan. Some critics find it ironic that Moscow, which was responsible for the war in Afghanistan, when it invaded the country in 1979 but had to retreat in 1989, is now part of the peace process. The trilateral group, in its third round, took note of the “deteriorating situation in Afghanistan”, particularly the rise of IS also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh. Taking cognizance of Afghanistan’s exclusion, trilateral group has agreed to expand its tripartite consultations on Afghan conflict and include other countries, including Afghanistan.
Even US military has conceded the insurgents have gained ground. This year, Afghan security forces are believed to have suffered their worst losses since 2001, with military estimating 2016 fatalities at more than 5,000. Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s ambassador in Kabul, has stated that “A permanent Taliban presence in Afghanistan would send a message to followers and fighters that insurgents now control so much territory they can no longer be dislodged by govt security forces.” Kabul has to set its priorities right whether it wants peace in Afghanistan more or act as a surrogate for India and continue its policy of Pakistan bashing. Pakistan has bent backwards to support Afghanistan, has sacrificed more than any other country in world yet all it receives from the thankless Afghan leadership is brickbats and accusations. A number of Pakistan’s development projects like TAPI, CASA-1000 et-al are on hold awaiting peace in Afghanistan, making Pakistan is a major shareholder in Afghan peace. Instead of making Pakistan scapegoat for its own failures, Kabul must learn to trust Pakistan.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
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