Voice of reason ? | By M Ziauddin

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Voice of reason ?


SUDDENLY, out of the blue, a voice of reason is being heard from across the Taliban territory.

Perhaps it is nothing to get excited about. It could just be a tactical ploy to convey to the other side a false sense of relief as a fresh wave of Taliban onslaught is being planned.

Or perhaps the Taliban have actually reached the limits of their fire-power, therefore the appeasing gestures.

Or it could be that they have adjusted their goals to the ground realities which certainly are too different from what they were when they had ruled the country some two decades ago.

Moreover, of the three that had recognized their government then, the two are, Saudi Arabia and UAE seem to be missing.

And the third one, Pakistan under intense pressure from the so-called free world, has after all leveraged its real influence over the Taliban forcing it to start being reasonable in its demands.

The other day, the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen who is also a member of the negotiating team in an interview with the Associated Press laid out the insurgents’ stance on what should come next in the country on the precipice:

The Taliban don’t want to monopolize power; Taliban will lay down their weapons when a negotiated government acceptable to all sides in the conflict is installed in Kabul minus Ghani; Women will be allowed to work, go to school, and participate in politics, but will have to wear the hijab, or headscarf; Women won’t be required to have a male relative with them to leave their home; Taliban commanders in newly occupied districts have orders that universities, schools and markets operate as before, including with the participation of women and girls; There are no plans to make a military push on Kabul and that the Taliban have so far “restrained” themselves from taking provincial capitals; So far the majority of the Taliban’s battlefield successes came through negotiations, not fighting; No one wants a civil war, including Taliban; US military interpreters not being threatened and have nothing to fear from the Taliban; Journalists, including those working for Western media outlets, have nothing to fear from Taliban resurgence; Taliban have not issued letters to journalists (threatening them), especially to those who are working for foreign media outlets. They can continue their work even in the future.

Shaheen also denied that the Taliban have threatened Afghanistan’s nascent civil society, which has been targeted by dozens of killings over the past year.

The Islamic State group has taken responsibility for some, but the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for most of the killings while the Taliban in turn accuse the Afghan government of carrying out the killings to defame them.

“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any governments who (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, were not successful governments,” said Shaheen, apparently including the Taliban’s own five-year rule in that assessment. “So we do not want to repeat that same formula.”

Last weekend, Abdullah headed a high-level delegation to the Qatari capital of Doha for talks with Taliban leaders.

It ended with promises of more talks, as well as greater attention to the protection of civilians and infrastructure. Shaheen called the talks a good beginning.

But he said the government’s repeated demands for a cease-fire while Ghani stayed in power were tantamount to demanding a Taliban surrender.

Before any cease-fire, there must be an agreement on a new government “acceptable to us and to other Afghans,” he said. Then “there will be no war.”

However, there have been repeated reports from captured districts of Taliban imposing harsh restrictions on women, even setting fire to schools.

One gruesome video that emerged appeared to show Taliban killing captured commandos in northern Afghanistan.

Shaheen said some Taliban commanders had ignored the leadership’s orders against repressive and drastic behaviour and that several have been put before a Taliban military tribunal and punished, though he did not provide specifics. He contended the video was fake, a splicing of separate footage.

The Taliban control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centres, and while they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals.

In recent weeks, they seized strategic border crossings and are threatening a number of provincial capitals — advances that come as the last US and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan.

Even if all these factors tilt in the Taliban’s favour, neutral analysts said, the group will have a hard time controlling all of Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s ideology is too extreme for many Afghans—particularly those in urban areas—who adhere to a much less conservative form of Islam that permits modern technology, television, music, participation in democratic politics, and some women’s rights.

The Taliban’s brutal tactics, including suicide attacks, have alienated much of the population.

All these deficiencies give Washington which does not seem to have been taken in by Shaheen’s ‘voice of reason’ an opening to prevent the group from achieving a complete takeover of Afghanistan.

In a phone call Friday, Biden told Ghani that he’s included $3.3 billion for Afghan security forces in his fiscal year 2022 budget request, according to the White House.

The military aid includes $1 billion to support the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, $1 billion for fuel, ammunition and spare parts, and $700 million to pay salaries for Afghan soldiers.

The White House said in a statement that the two leaders agreed that the Taliban’s military offensive “is in direct contradiction to the movement’s claim to support a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”

The best alternative, according to the US strategists, is to continue providing military assistance from the air and covert forces on the ground through a strategy of what is known in military circles as “armed over watch.” Second, they said the United States should fly regular missions for the purpose of striking targets and gathering intelligence.

Finding a nearby staging area will not be easy. For the time being Washington could consider using Qatar.

One of the newest versions of the drone could, after subtracting the 12-hour round trip from Qatar, spend roughly 26 hours flying over Afghanistan, conducting surveillance and striking targets. The United States could complement its drones with manned aircraft.

Third, special operations forces from the CIA and the US military should train and equip Afghan forces, as well as allied militias in Afghanistan.

CIA and US military forces could also train Afghan army, police, intelligence, and air force units outside Afghanistan, in Uzbekistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates.

— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.

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