Who is the Hurdle to Peace: Taliban or the Govt’s Inner Circle?
Written by: Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen
Afghan Writer & Political Analyst based in Kabul
Translated – Pashto to English by: Sayed Jamal based in Herat
The Afghan National Unity Government has recently disseminated gossip that it would not sabotage any chance & effort for peace settlement & would take it seriously with the Taliban, but it appears that the Afghan government sees the peace initiative to come from Islamabad, Pakistan.
The first of March was proposed as the start date for peace talks by Islamabad & here in Kabul, the Afghan media was looking forward & expecting the same date, but this time it was widely hoped that all sides involved in the peace talks, would be finally able to make a breakthrough.
Shortly after the peace talks were about to resume & it was only reported by Afghan-Pak media, the inner circle of president Ghani stepped forward & put him under mounting pressure. Now on one hand, President Ghani raised the slogan for peace & on the other; he seems to be swamped with potential hurdles limiting his access to an actual peace road.
It has been leaked out in several meetings & occasions of President Ashraf Ghani that he personally told a number of high ranking foreign dignitaries and ambassadors not to remind him of Taliban at all, saying that the President does not recognize Taliban as a legitimate opposition, claiming that he has already reached a final agreement with Pakistan, that the Taliban opposition movement does not exist anymore.
Will those who were granted concessions, ever calm down?
During the last 13 years of the US-led invasion in Afghanistan, many Afghans received tremendous amounts of cash & concessions, which were mostly offered by the donor countries. During this period, some of the cash & blank cheques were misused, leading to a wide-scale corruption & embezzlement in the country.
Now with all those blank cheques & concessions being suddenly abandoned for most Afghan officials, President Ghani will find it extremely tough to have them calm down & satisfied. Hence, it is widely believed that these particular officials will now try to cause divisions & challenges for President Ghani in the country.
As of now, Ashraf Ghani does not only face the challenge of bringing Taliban fighters to the negotiating table, but he also has to face the fact that he embraces other internal & external challenges as well. President Ghani has to come in to terms with the facts that he has to gratify the wishes of his CEO, Dr. Abdullah, former anti-Soviet Jihadi commanders Rasul Sayyaf & Ismail Khan, the head of Afghan Parliament, Mr. Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi and the chief of elders’ council, Mr. Muslimyar.
If President Ghani is to desert all those influential figures, then the present “phony” peace talks with the Taliban insurgents will collapse rapidly & he may get embattled with serious country-wide security challenges.
Regimes overthrown by inner-circles:
Regimes & governing parties could be easily toppled by inner-circles. As soon as any government suffers a setback due to any significant internal division, then A & B start to terminate & destroy each other. The former monarch Zaher Shah was ousted by his cousin Dawood Khan, the regime of Dawood Khan was toppled by his colleague Hafizullah Amin, the government of Amin was overthrown by the Soviets backed figure Noor Mohammad Taraki, President Taraki was ousted by Soviet backed Babrak Karmal, President Karmal was deposed by Dr. Najibullah, President Najibullah was ousted by former warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the regime of President Sebghatullah Mujadadi was overthrown by Borhanuddin Rabbani, Professor Rabbani administration was thwarted by the Taliban militants & finally the Taliban “de facto” Islamic Emirate was overthrown in the course of 9/11 by the US-led invasion back in 2001.
The present Afghan national unity government still suffers from a former communist & Soviet style Khalq- Parcham divisions.
The Northern Alliance does not seemingly oppose any peace initiative, but it fears any attempt by President Ghani to make peace with the Taliban may embolden the present fragile national unity government. The northern alliance believes that President Ghani will no longer be able to administer the present afghan national unity government in Kabul, while his CEO, Dr. Abdullah along with his political faction may finally inherit the entire political power of the country.
When we come to this particular scenario, we would say as why India matters the most. Having said that, the Indian government has recently suspended all its ongoing mega projects in Afghanistan, including the hydroelectric Salma dam in western Herat province. The international community can play a key role in bringing peace & stability to Afghanistan.
It is obvious that the international community would never prefer to lose its achievements gained during the last 13 years of the joint US-NATO led intervention, but it seems that the international community itself is not willing to sincerely kick-start any bilateral genuine peace process, due to the fact that its career & interests could be jeopardized.
Russia steps ahead:
The Russian ambassador in Kabul has met with the ex-Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, & has formally invited him to visit Russia & address a Russian gathering in Moscow. The Russian invitation from Karzai comes shortly after he deepened his rhetoric against the United States in different occasions.
The Afghan peace process is now faced with different challenges & multiple partners. It is not only the peace settlement with Taliban, but it is also the neighboring & regional countries, which must be involved in any peace initiative.
The United States is unlikely to include more players in the Afghan peace process as it has already adopted an ex-Soviet style policy during the Russian invasion of (1979 –1989), wherein the USSR strongly backed & supported the regime of Dr. Najibullah & the U.S. openly supported & armed the Afghan Mujahidin.
This particular U.S. policy & strategy in Afghanistan is identical to the former USSR strategy in Afghanistan, which is widely deemed to be failing & will extend the ongoing war in Afghanistan to another 26 years.
The Russians have now expressed their willingness to get further involved in the Afghan crisis. The U.S. & Russia are already at two proxy wars in Syria & eastern Ukraine. If the Afghan peace process is not truly & sincerely pushed forward, it seems likely that Russia will possibly support & arm anti-government & anti-U.S. insurgency in Afghanistan.
If this triggers in the near future, then the present chances for any peace settlement with the Taliban will dwindle & subsequently fail & this will potentially pave the way for a serious escalation of violence & internal conflict.
ISIS in reality:
Numerous attempts are being made now to lower the morale and enthusiasm of Taliban by spreading propagandas that ISIS – Islamic State in Iraq & Syria – elements are now operating in certain locations of Afghanistan. If these propaganda & allegations of ISIS presence in Afghanistan come true, then it would be certainly a security challenge & a potential threat to the Afghan government & its western allies.
The possible presence of ISIS here in the country will definitely derail the peace process & at that time neither the Afghan government nor its U.S. & NATO allies will be capable to stabilize the country & besides this, it will be potentially challenging for the Taliban as well since they won’t be able to coherently supervise & control their own fighters & this will be easily analyzed by experts that the Afghan war will continue indiscriminately.
The Afghan Peace Council will stay operational for some times to claim annual budget & salaries for its staff. A number of candidates are nominated to push the peace process forward. Hamid Gailani along with his father, Peer Ahmad Gailani are already nominated to represent & lead a small peace group. Qotbuddin Helal, Qazi Amin Weqad & Qayum Kochi are among the other candidates to be officially nominated for a similar post.
Meanwhile, the recent abduction of 31 ethnic Hazara citizens in southern Zabul province is an alarming signal, which must be dealt with & taken seriously. It is really amazing as how some certain Afghan media publish reports & exaggerate on ISIS presence without any authentic evidence. It seems likely that these media networks might be trying to impose a psychological warfare on the Taliban to admit that ISIS really exists in the country.
The recent media reports about the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan have had some impacts on the mainstream Afghan population & the most recent footages & reports were leaked out to the press from Kajaki district of Helmand province, where an armed group claiming to be affiliated with ISIS led by Mullah Abdul Rauf has emerged, but these alleged ISIS armed activities were not very serious.
The U.S. propaganda machine might not have been very useful during the last 13 years in Afghanistan & has failed in different occasions, as most Taliban fighters do not follow the U.S. & western media. Most Taliban insurgents fighting against pro-government & foreign troops in Afghan villages, might not be having any idea of what/who exactly “ISIS” is & whether it is already operating in Afghanistan?
The residents of Helmand did not know ISIS by any means, but a few gossips were circulated there stating that Wahhabis have poured in to Kajaki area. Mullah Khadem made it clear during a Friday sermon that he was a follower of Hanafi doctrine of Islam, not a Wahhabi.
The Conservative Afghan Society:
The Afghan government believes there are other factors as well, which could spoil the peace process efforts. The former Afghan king Amanullah Khan irritated Afghans by ordering his wife to remove her headscarf. Amanullah Khan encouraged Afghan women to adopt western dress code.
King Zaher Shah was blamed by religious scholars for authorizing communists to practice full press freedom & write blasphemous comments. Meanwhile, President Dawood Khan was accused of having core relationships with the communists, but trying to crackdown on the Muslim youth.
During the communist regime of Afghanistan back in 1979-1989, one of the best propaganda against President Noor Mohammad Taraki was to publicly announce that Afghan men & women were seen dancing & singing in public picnics while the president himself was also noticed sitting with the audience.
The Afghan Mujahidin also practiced this type of propaganda tool, claiming that the pro-USSR Afghans were calling & inviting people for singing & dancing, but there seems to be no evidence for such a claim that the pro-USSR Afghans were encouraging typical Afghan women to practice debauchery & nudity.
Gul Agha Sherzai (an Afghan politician) organized a singing contest during the first tenure of Hamid Karzai in Kandahar. The contest was held in “Zarghona Ana Lycée” high school in the evening, where Afghan men & women were invited to co-sing & co-dance, but the contest platform came under gunshots by the supporters of Ahmad Wali Karzai.
Shortly after the new Afghan national unity government was formed, similar cases were reported. During the last 13 years of Karzai presidency, many allegations of debauchery & intimacy were reported, but President Karzai never authorized his wife to attend prejudiced gatherings.
We recently noticed a bizarre behavior from an Afghan lady, apparently mentally sick, wearing an iron costume, which featured exaggerated breasts & buttocks, and walking in the streets of Kabul. This could be part of a vigorous campaign to notoriously emancipate Afghan women in today’s national unity government, but we did not notice any single Afghan lady in Karta e 4 area of Kabul with such a weird approach at all during Karzai presidency, nor did we notice any Afghan lady meeting with Christian missionaries. As far as these bizarre & intolerable phenomena are concerned, the Afghan society seems to be pretty much conservative & conformist.
Rula Ghani, the wife of president incumbent Ashraf Ghani did not apparently seem to continue believing in Islam as she did during the presidential elections campaign of her husband last year. She used to bear & hold a copy of the holy Quran while rallying support for Ashraf Ghani presidential elections campaign. In an interview with BBC, the Afghan first lady admitted that they all (Muslims & Christians) worship the almighty Lord.
Meeting with President Barrack Obama:
President Ghani & his CEO Dr. Abdullah have reportedly not fully agreed to meet President Barrack Obama in the White House. President Ghani planned to visit President Obama along with his team, but Dr. Abdullah seems to have repeatedly reiterated that if he along with his faction is not part of the visiting delegation to meet president Obama in the White House, then he may scrap the pre-planned visit to the United States.
These divisions clearly illustrate that the two Afghan leaders’ trust are overshadowed by uncertainty. Although the two Afghan leaders are trying with utmost care to avoid any leakage of their divisions to the media, but as it looks like such splits & differences of the national unity government are leaked out to the local & international media.
The Communists get warnings:
The Afghan former Jihadi commanders of the USSR occupation decade have warned that, what they call the communists, have been offered & granted key posts in the present national unity government. The Jihadi commanders recall the names of Hanif Atmar, the chief of National Security Council & Noorulhaq Ulomi, the minister for internal affairs, for instance. These types of accusations & warnings by the ex-Jihadi leaders should not be downplayed.
Dawood Sultanzoi, the advisor to President Ghani, is on European tour nowadays to meet the former Afghan communist leading figures & recall them back for services with the new Afghan government. Some of these communist figures are already reported to be back in the country. General Afzal Lodin, the former commander of army corps for Nangarhar province during the presidency of Dr. Najibullah, and who is also famous for defeating the Afghan Mujahidin in eastern Nangarhar province, is said to be offered a governmental post.
Some analysts speculate that Hanif Atmar is planning & getting ready to contest in the next presidential elections & he might go on rivalry with Dr. Abdullah or any other politician of the northern alliance. Meanwhile, the ex-president Hamid Karzai has brought together a number of former high ranking government officials including professor Sayyaf, Ismail Khan, Younus Qanuni, Besmellah Mohammadi & Karim Khalili.
These officials were holding key positions during Karzai tenure, but they are no longer with the present government, but they seem to be planning to come back to the political arena. It is reported recently that Karzai has issued president Ghani & Dr. Abdullah a six-month ultimatum to fix their government & put it on the right track, otherwise they may not stay calm & will subsequently get involved.
The National Unity Government & Military Budget Deficit:
The Afghan national unity government faces many economic woes & challenges. Chuck Hagel, the former United States Secretary of Defense tried his utmost to responsibly end the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. He personally opposed the ongoing wars in these two countries, but Ashton Carter, the U.S. incumbent secretary of defense comes from economic backgrounds. Secretary Carter’s main focus will be on the Afghan military & security budget spending.
The Afghan MoD will no longer receive blank cheques from the United States to cover its expenditures. Meanwhile, Secretary Ashton Carter maintains better ties & relationships with India than Pakistan and this would undermine the present interactions of president Ghani with Pakistan, who prefers & keeps good ties with Pakistan rather than India.
President Ghani “Never remind of Taliban”:
President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly requested foreign ambassadors during their meetings in Kabul not to remind him of Taliban, admitting that he no longer recognizes Taliban. President Ghani is reported to have clearly told foreign ambassador in Kabul that he has reached a final agreement with Pakistan about the existence & reality of Taliban, adding that Taliban no longer physically exists.
If this really comes to be proven true, then neighboring Pakistan would better to crack down on operating Taliban insurgents in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Waziristan & Baluchistan areas. Once these areas are pacified, this will positively impact the peace process in Afghanistan as well.
With the two opponent generals Abdul Rashid Dostum & Malik being both active politicians of the present national unity government & holding key posts, how can one expect and see the peace process being pushed forward.
On the other hand, President Ghani seems to be having deep divisions within his own political faction as well. He has lost the confidence of his own party senior members & this could have serious implications for the ongoing peace efforts. It is unlikely that President Ghani is mentally prepared for any peace deal with the Taliban. The ongoing peace talks are only running at low level, with no major & tangibles achievements so far. A high price is yet to be paid to achieve an actual peace.
President Ghani is encircled by many politicians, warlords & war criminals, who do not seem to be mentally prepared for any peace settlement. The international community also looks far from any preparedness to support a peace initiative. The ongoing “phony” peace negotiations with the Taliban are launched & aimed by President Ashraf Ghani to keep his political power, embolden his administration from a possible failure & to sustain the international assistance to his government.
If Pakistan urges some Taliban figures to come to the negotiations table with the Afghan government & discuss any possible peace deal without any pre-discussion & agreement with their senior leadership, this would potentially sabotage the ongoing peace talks even further. As a result, Taliban would hardly trust the Afghan & Pakistani governments. This will also send a clear message to the rest of Taliban fighters to avoid getting together for striking a peace deal with the Afghan government under the direct pressure of Pakistan.
Subsequently, they will look for new safe havens & sanctuaries in Afghanistan to intensify their sporadic guerilla warfare against the Afghan government & its western allies. These particular groups of Taliban will also try to abandon their havens near the Pakistani border & will head to the borders of other neighboring countries inside Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, there seems to be deep divisions within Dr. Abdullah political bloc as well. It was learned from some recent reports that an angry mob of Panjshir citizens planned to torch the house of Dr. Abdullah in Panjshir valley, but they were stopped & prevented by Younus Qanuni. All this clearly indicates that any step toward a sustainable peace deal with the Taliban seems extremely difficult.
Taliban getting radicalized:
Qayum Kochi, the uncle of President Ghani, used to call Taliban the oppressed ones, who were desperate for any assistance. Meanwhile, Mr. Kochi also indicated during his speech to the emergency national grand assembly members (approx. 3000 attendees) back in Nov 2013 for signing the BSA with the United States & NATO that any bilateral agreement with the foreign invading forces & authorizing them to establish permanent military bases across Afghanistan will definitely prolong the Afghan war.
Meanwhile during a press conference in Qatar, he labeled Taliban as freedom fighters & advocators of their own rights, but now he publicly admits that Taliban are extremists & they must unconditionally surrender to the Afghan government. Mr. Kochi was quoted to say, Taliban must be more than happy & willing to get a few ministerial positions & satisfied with, but if they refuse to agree to this offer as an option, then they shall be entirely eliminated.
While travelling from the U.S. to Europe to attend a meeting, Mr. Kochi is also reported to say if he personally met General Dostum, he would have assaulted & killed him. Mr. Kochi believed that General Dostum – the vice president incumbent – was (is) is the enemy of Pashtuns & the murderer of Taliban fighters.
During the presidential elections race back in 2009, President Ashraf Ghani called General Dostum a war criminal, but everything seems to be perfect by now, since the Afghan President considers General Abdul Rashid Dostum as his best & close friend. We have all learned that General Dostum managed a coup & toppled the regime of Dr. Najibullah Ahmadzai, but he gets any chance this time, then he may also overthrow the government of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as well.
A Weak Contribution in a Pathetic Government:
The Afghan peace process faces many challenges & one of them is the broadcasting of any piece of breaking news by the press & media, especially the most recently one related to the contribution & involvement of Taliban figures in the Afghan national unity government.
The recent reports leaked out to the media clearly stated the names of former Taliban senior figures, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the foreign minister of Taliban, and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad.
Shortly after these reports were widely publicized by the media, it was also reported back that these two ex-Taliban figures were not contacted & consulted in relations to the ongoing peace talks or any other involvement in the government.
The media in Pakistan published reported last week that these two Taliban figures – Mutawakil & Zaeef – were contacted to offer them a number of ministerial positions in the Afghan government. Meanwhile, the Pakistani press has also reported that a number of high ranking Taliban figures travelled from Doha in Qatar to Pakistan to attend the scheduled peace talks meeting in Islamabad with the Afghan officials, but it was later denied & nothing actually took place.
It was also very interested to see the Pakistani media publishing reports saying that the offer by the Afghan government to Mutawakil & Zaeef for a number of ministerial posts was rejected by the Taliban leadership, as Taliban considers Abdul Wakil Mutawakil & Abdul Salam Zaeef to be “renegades”, who have already abandoned the Taliban movement. Unluckily, such reports are always exaggerated by our Afghan media.
The Afghan Peace Process gets complicated:
As far as the Afghan politics are concerned, there are some reports which highlight great divisions & differences between Pakistani army & its intelligence agency, the ISI – inter services intelligence. The Pakistan army believes in keeping better ties with Afghanistan, but ISI would like to continue following its previous strategy for Afghanistan.
There are also some other reports which suggest that the leaders of the Afghan national unity government are busy considering options to see if they can task a number of representatives & military advisors from the Pakistan army to co-work with their Afghan counterparts in MoD, MoE, & NDS, where they can easily coordinate all security related affairs of the two countries – Afghanistan & Pakistan.
Having said that & looking to the ongoing peace talks, it seems that the Afghan peace process will get complicated and will derail further. It was widely hoped and believed during the last year of Karzai presidency and shortly after he refused to sign the BSA with the U.S. and NATO that a peace deal with the Taliban will be finally reached.
It seems that all the efforts made during the tenure of Karzai for a permanent peace settlement with the Taliban, are declared null and void by the national unity government, while a new round of peace talks are proposed & resumed from scratch.
If President Ghani is really willing and determined to strike a permanent peace deal with the Taliban, then he should propose & bring fundamental changes to his present policy & strategy. One of the real & potential obstacles in the peace process is the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, inappropriate & negative propaganda for peace are also among the factors to be seriously considered.
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