Coming full circle, of sorts
All in all, the set of these three appears to be a big catch. Until you look a bit deeper within the insurgency only to find out that all of them have not been in good books of their new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is said to be ‘pro-Pakistan’
Even after a much-hyped Peace Agreement between Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) and militant leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami Gulbadin (HIG), peace in Afghanistan remains elusive. Amidst criticism from Human Rights Watch, and celebratory statement by the US terming the Agreement as ‘a step forward towards peace’, Hekmtyar got immunity for all his past crimes. The peace process, however, needs to be ‘Afghan led and Afghan owned’ as the cliché goes, and the choices made by the Afghan government have to be accepted with a bated breath.
Hekmatyar once was given monikers like ‘butcher of Kabul’ and ‘Rocketyar’ by Afghans who witnessed his atrocities during 1990s. After consuming US money doled to his group during the Afghan jihad days, the current Peace Agreement might just be a nostalgic act by the US to support, but this can just be a step closer to Taliban’s Afghanistan in future not very far.
Unlike Pakistani liberals, what the Afghan government has been demanding from Pakistan’s security establishment is to influence Afghan Taliban for agreeing to negotiate peace, as opposed to eliminating them and making them face justice for their past atrocities meted out on the people of Afghanistan. Goes without saying that they did not commit atrocities against the people of Afghanistan only, but were responsible for unleashing the Jihad Inc on the entire world by providing havens and training ground in Afghanistan to global jihadi movements of the Arabs, the Chechens, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Kashmiri and Punjabi militants fighting for different causes. After 9/11 when the USA pushed them towards Pakistan’s restive FATA (never forget the evil airlift of Kunduz that the US allowed), that fateful area became mini Afghanistan of Taliban’s era in terms of hosting a vast spectrum of jihadi organisations. We looked the other way. Can’t figure out why.
Don’t know who benefitted from the butchers. Pakistan and Pakistanis were certainly sore losers in that endless vicious war. Our people have seen blood and gore every day of their life since then. Our children have grown up amidst an environment of insecurity and fear. Our civilians have vainly given their lives, homes and businesses to this war. We continue to receive the bodies of our soldiers and seeing them maimed. An irrational choice.
Anyway, coming back to the Afghan peace process. Why should we even expect the US or anyone for that matter, to be worried about human rights violations committed by the Rocketyars of the yore, one wonders. Didn’t the Coalition work with war criminals like Dostum and others during this so called ‘War on Terror’? The world remained complacent when minorities were being butchered and women were being stoned to death or more recently, burnt publicly. Guess the world’s conscience is pretty elusive just like the peace in Afghanistan is.
According to the media reports on NUG-Hekmatyar Peace Agreement, he has been given immunity alongside welcoming him as legitimate political actor. Something that even the Taliban are eying on by being flexible on presence of US forces and negotiating a change of status from being designated terrorists. According to Afghan media reports, the Taliban and Afghan government representatives held a secret meeting in Qatar where a senior US diplomat also participated. Also present were key Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Manan, who is the brother-in-law of the dead Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, Masoom Stanekzai.
The Taliban spokesperson has denied any such meeting. However, some Taliban leaders have confirmed to many international journalists including Washington Post’s Kathy Gannon, of at least two rounds of these secret talks. Afghan officials and Taliban leadership both are not ready to own these meetings officially though.
What is significant is the absence of Pakistani officials from the process. But the ick factor within Pakistani security establishment about the process-sans-Pakistan becomes obvious especially when most media got the tip about the meeting from anonymous source within Pakistan’s ISI. Kathy Gannon’s dateline was Karachi, Pakistan.
In the past, any Taliban leader getting closer to Afghan or US officials was abruptly killed in the battlefield or was arrested. Mullah Abdul Ghani Birader and unconfirmed reports about the arrest of Mullah Abdul Rasool are the examples. Some journalists, however, reportedly saw Mullah Rasool in Afghanistan recently. The fresh arrests of three Taliban ‘leaders’ from Balochistan appear to be an outcome of the same process. While it could have been taken as Pakistan’s positive gesture for Afghan peace, the more one looks at the circumstances and fissures within the Taliban, one is pushed to take it otherwise.
The arrests were made a day after a Reuters story claiming that a Taliban leader has been teaching in a seminary in Kuchlak near Quetta. Among the three arrested was Mullah Sani, also known as Samad Sani, who has been the head of a seminary and a well-known Afghan businessman. He was reportedly arrested from a madrassa compound in Quetta city. The other two were Mullah Ahmadullah Muti alias Mullah Nanai who served as Taliban’s designated intelligence chief and Sulaiman Agha, Taliban’s designated governor for Daikundi province.
As per Afghan media, Mullah Nanai, originally a native of southern Kandahar, has served in some key positions within the Taliban Movement. He also worked as Deputy Head of the Peshawar Commission as well as Minister of Public Works, Governor of Balkh and Herat provinces during the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. Nanai is also said to have close ties with the Haqqani network and has been leading Taliban offensive in the eastern regions of Afghanistan in past.
All in all, the set of these three appears to be a big catch. Until you look a bit deeper within the insurgency only to find out that all of them have not been in good books of their new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is said to be ‘pro-Pakistan’. In recent past, reports have emerged about the challenges, however meek they were, to the leadership of Akhudzada. According to a recent statement by the Arg’s spokesperson, Afghan government is not ready to take these unconfirmed reports of the grand arrest, especially when no Pakistani official is ready to own the arrest.
If indeed the arrests have happened, this is a good opportunity to extend a friendly gesture to the Afghan government. All it takes is picking up the phone and making a call to the Arg. Thinking from the boots of Pakistani establishment this is perhaps not a good time for such a call. The way NUG alongside its NDS and the US establishment have been putting public pressure on Pakistan, no one within the security elite would agree to cowing down to the shove even if some elements within it would be willing to diluting the relationship with the insurgency.
Speaking with the hindsight however, it is in larger interest of Pakistan itself if some way is found for withering off the infamous ties and to appear being the partner of the changing world determined to wage peace on terror. Even if the ‘peace’ is mistaken as shaking hands with the terrorists. Making a rational choice is important for us more than anyone else.