News & Views
An Afghan Taliban delegation recently visited China to discuss matters related to occupation of Afghanistan by other countries, according to a media report on Saturday. The Taliban delegation travelled from its Qatar-based political office to China, weeks after the group refused to take part in the peace process under a quartet of which Beijing is also a member. Taliban leaders have previously visited China on several occasions while Chinese officials have also met members of the group in Qatar. China had also hosted Taliban and officials of the government-backed High Peace Council in Urumqi earlier last year. However, the peace in Afghanistan remains elusive. With ISIS (Daesh) gaining foothold in Nangarhar and adjacent areas, Pakistan and Afghanistan should address each other’s apprehensions to forge unity to face ISIS threat. Taliban and Afghanistan should also start peace process to avert Syria-like situation.
Meanwhile, an important district in Afghanistan’s poppy-growing province of Helmand has fallen under Taliban control after heavy fighting that killed around 17 policemen, an official said on Saturday. The director of Helmand’s provincial council, Kareem Atal, said that Taliban militants attacked a series of police checkpoints on Friday night as part of a larger assault in the Kanashin district. Earlier, his deputy, Abdul Majeed Akhonzada, said that Kanashin district had “fallen into Taliban hands”. The fall of the district, which borders Pakistan and major poppy-producing districts, meant the “Taliban are in control of 60 per cent of Helmand,” Akhonzada said. Much of the areas of Marjah, Sangin, Garmser and Dishu districts have already fallen to the Taliban. There appears realization on the part of Afghan government that the threat is from within and Pakistan is not involved in stirring violence in Afghanistan.
It was in this backdrop that National Directorate of Security (NDS) admitted that ISIS was involved in recent suicide attacks in Kabul. Perhaps, Afghan government has also realized that by blaming Pakistan, the prospects of peace negotiations would be obscured. ISIS claimed that its two fighters detonated explosive belts at a gathering of shi’ites in Kabul last month. More than 80 were dead and hundreds of protesters were injured. Thousands of members of the Hazara minority had staged demonstration over a new power line, saying its route bypasses provinces where many of them live. In the past ISIS has carried out attacks in Nangarhar, the eastern part of the country, mainly suicide attacks, but not as far as Kabul. It means that the ISIS has the capacity to hit as far as Kabul.
The redeeming feature is that India stands exposed for its devious role in creating problems for Pakistan. Former US defence Secretary Chuck Hagel who was the only Republican in the Obama’s cabinet had once categorically stated: “India for sometime has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border – and you can carry that into many dimensions.” Hagel’s remarks were construed as critical of India’s role in the region, which were reflective of the ground realities. A dismayed New Delhi, which had looked forward to working closely with Hagel, had issued a statement saying: “Such comments attributed to Senator Hagel, who has been a long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations, are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people.”
Having that said, it was for an indulgent international community’s loathing to see through the shenanigans of the Indian establishment and the Kabul regime that former prime minister Manmohan Singh and then Afghan president could squawk so self-righteously of terrorists’ sanctuaries abroad and what not. The then Indian home minister Chidambaram had threatened isolating Pakistan internationally if it did not come complying with New Delhi’s demands regarding the Mumbai terrorist assault. There was a method to Karzai’s madness, as in 2009 he was in office for eight years. Indeed, it was his inept, corrupt and incompetent government that had led all through that had failed to deliver and rule. In 2009, a foreign study group had stated that 70 per cent of Afghanistan much of south and the east was outside of his government’s writ though to the great ire of his US-led coalition allies.
Yet Karzai had talked of Taliban’s foreign sanctuaries. Why would they need shelter outside Afghanistan, when much of their own country was there under the control where they could rest, recuperate, train and groom freely for their fight. Recently, former US envoy and Karzai’s close friend, Zalmay Khalilzad came out with the litany of same charges that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. In November 2015, US Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman Senator John McCain had admitted that Pakistan Army under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif achieved great successes. In an interview with Dunya News, he said the US values relations with Pakistan. John McCain had also said: “Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan could be blamed for the situation in Afghanistan, as these were Obama s policies that worsened the situation.
In May 2016, Afghanistan’s government had signed a draft peace agreement with the Hizb-e-Islami militant group led by Gulbadin Hekmatyar, a veteran of Afghan conflicts in recent decades. The group had been linked to al-Qaeda and was accused of widespread civil rights abuses; and it had been designated a terrorist by the US. Sayed Zafar Hashemi, deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the agreement was at the endorsement and verification phases but had not yet been signed by the president. Under the terms of the deal, the government would grant members of Hezb-e-Islami amnesty, and lobby the UN to have the group removed from a blacklist. One would not know if the deal would go through, as Gulbadin Hikmatyar had told President Ashraf Ghani that Northern Alliance elements did not wish to see peace process a success, as they will have to share power with the Taliban.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.