News & Views
The Taliban’s refusal to participate in the dialogue with the Afghan government till its conditions are met is a blow to international efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged country. The conditions are withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, reversal of sanctions by the UN on Taliban leaders and release of prisoners. The Taliban spokesman further said that talks could not be held while Afghan forces continue their attacks. The problem is that there are splits in Afghan government and also within Taliban factions on the question of peace process that hinder peace process. Addressing a function at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar, Dr. Zakhelwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan claimed the other day that there was no dispute between Kabul and Islamabad but the relations between the two neighboring countries were affected due to lack of trust. Anyhow, Afghanistan should act against Fazlullah and his thugs to remove trust deficit.
In response to a question, Zakhelwal said there were some elements on both sides of the border involved in sabotaging the peace process in Afghanistan. In a way, it is a positive statement, as earlier Afghanistan has been accusing Pakistan of providing safe haven to the militants or for sabotaging the peace process. In fact, Indian RAW and elements in Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) that had joined hands during Karzai era, continue with their vile acts and at the same time berating Pakistan through propaganda about its meddling in Afghan affairs. Yet Islamabad hierarchy had not tried to nail their canards. The Americans and their allies had invaded Afghanistan to wipe out Taliban and Al Qaeda; and if they failed to corral the fleeing Taliban and Al Qaeda rumps in Afghanistan and decimate them, it was they who had to be in the dock, not Pakistan.
But Islamabad hierarchy, instead of being on the offensive was always on the defensive. It even mumbled not when the CIA not-so-imperceptibly had ganged up with India’s RAW intelligence agency to incite militancy in our tribal areas, insurgency in Balochistan and terrorism and subversion in the country’s various parts including Karachi. At its service, the gang had Afghan intelligence service NDS, which CIA had cloned as a subsidiary for operations in and out of Afghanistan. The shenanigans of this gang were no secret, as by 2004 it had perceptibly pushed out our intelligence outfits from our tribal areas, got the government functionaries and Maliks killed in FATA through Baitullah Mehsud. Balochistan was humming with very disturbing activities being carried out; yet none in hierarchy spoke of it. Only recently, our Foreign Office said that it submitted dossiers of Indian vile acts to the UN and the US.
The US has acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts in dismantling the infrastructure and networks of militants of all hues and shades including Haqqani network. It is by weakening them that Pakistan has been able to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. On March 03, 2016, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who led Pakistani delegation at the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue at Washington, reportedly admitted before a think tank forum the presence of some Taliban leaders and their families. He should not have said it in so many words, which was contrary to the earlier position taken by Pakistan. Perhaps he wished to prove Pakistan’s relevance and influence it has over the Taliban. He made it clear that Pakistan can use leverage up to some extent, and Afghan government should not espouse hopes that Pakistan can force the Taliban to accept Afghan government conditions.
Let there be no confusion that there are more than one groups of Taliban including two main factions – Mullah Mansoor and Mulla Rasool. The Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and many commanders are in favour of holding talks with the Afghan government. But, in case Mullah Mansoor gives any concessions to the government, the other group would accuse it of infidelity to the Taliban cause. It should be born in mind that the Taliban leaders who are in Doha, Pakistan or elsewhere, do not have as much say as the commanders that are fighting on the ground and holding the fort. Since there are pro and anti-negotiations groups in the Taliban as well as in Afghan government, pro-Indian lobby and the TTP thugs are inclined to use Daesh franchise or brand to showcase its strength and throw spanner in the works.
So far as Pakistan is concerned, it had taken the risk of annoying the Taliban when for the first time it had publicly denounced last year’s Taliban spring offensive and had urged the Taliban to cease hostilities and engage in peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Furthermore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had categorically stated that enemies of Afghanistan were enemies of Pakistan, without any exception. Pakistani military and civilian leaders have thrown all support behind President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to bring peace to his war-ravaged country. It appears that Afghan government had pinned high hopes on Pakistan that it would use its influence to bring the Taliban leaders to the negotiating table and make them accept Afghan government’s conditions. Afghan expectations that Pakistan holds the key to end the violence in Afghanistan are unrealistic. They should appreciate that Pakistan has tried to bring Taliban on the negotiating table.
The Taliban fighters and commanders have considerable presence rather control not only in the South and East but also in the far flung areas in North. Elements in Northern Alliance would not like to see any agreement with the Taliban for sharing of power. Anyhow, it is in the interest of all ethnic groups to find a common ground for power-sharing to make Afghanistan peaceful, stable and sovereign, which is also in interest of Pakistan and the region at large. It is hoped that both the Afghan government and the Taliban would start the dialogue without forcing their conditions, and the matter could be resolved through give and take. It has to be remembered that in past all rulers in Afghanistan were Pashtuns, except once for a brief period in 1929 when Habibullah alias Bacha-e-Saqa, a Tajik, and second time from 1992 to 1996 Burhanuddin Rabbani, again a Tajik ruled Afghanistan.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.