Media punditry after Taliban confirmation of opening a “political office” in Qatar paints the future of a political settlement for the end of conflict in Afghanistan very optimistically. After years of denial and doubts when the idea of negotiations with the Taliban were proposed seriously for the first time, it is indeed a major development that two parties to the conflict: the United States and Taliban militants have put aside their preconditions of talks such as complete disassociation from Al-Qaeda and acceptance of the Afghan constitution and on the Taliban part, full withdrawal of all foreign troops. However, there are many problems which, if not dealt properly, can end all the excitement of a political settlement into the last abyss of uncertainty and eventual descent into chaos for Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says it loud in his media statements that militants do not consider the Afghan Government as a party to the talks, let alone the current political opposition who are mainly the prominent and fiercest rivals of the Taliban. Optimists might say that these are initial game of words and will change when militants have a proper “address” in Doha, and responsible figures sitting there to talk to. As I have always said on these pages, the biggest problem of the conflict in Afghanistan when it comes to a political settlement will not be external, but rather internal factors and domestic stakeholders.
Whatever reasons have caused the positive change in thinking of the Taliban leadership to agree on direct talks with the US, it shows their extreme political immaturity still persistent to ignore the fact that Taliban have more serious problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community.
Long before there were any foreign troops in Afghanistan, Taliban could not reach to an understanding with any faction of the forces resisting them, among whom the former Northern Alliance was prominent. Were they politically mature enough, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar could avoid the bloodshed at the peak of their victory in Afghanistan, when they controlled over 80 percent of the country, and the forces resisting them either retreated outside or fought to their last bullet and drop of blood, but could not, despite attempts, come to an understanding of the sort of political deal.
Today Taliban have the same mentality. In his statement, Taliban spokesman say Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban shadow government and the United States are only parties to the talks. The biggest problem is this mindset of the Taliban leadership with the fantasy that most people of Afghanistan support their brand of Sharia and extremist political ideology. They might enjoy some grassroots support in some insurgent-controlled parts of the country in South, but they will always be unacceptable for majority of the population in Afghanistan with their brutal ideology and Islamo-fascist mindset. If they are not naïve, and the change of mind for talks with Americans is an honest move, the Taliban leadership have to be open and transparent about the process. They have to consider the fact that they have been resisted in the past and will be fiercely resisted in future, if a political settlement of the US and NATO withdrawal narrative is imposed on us with current mindset of the Taliban.
The strategy of Obama Administration towards a political settlement has cracks in its very fundamental approach to ignore the fact that Taliban have more internal problems in Afghanistan than with international community.
Media leaks in Washington suggest that the White House has decided, on the Taliban demand, to release five notorious former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay. In the first detailed media report about how western diplomats contacted with Taliban, the German Der Spiegel says Tayeb Agha, the secretary of Mullah Omar was taken to Munich from Qatar on a Falcon 900EX aircraft of German Foreign Intelligence BND in November 2010. The report further says the first deal towards opening of a Taliban office in Qatar include release of Bergdahl, an American soldier kidnapped by the Taliban in June 2009 from Paktika, to be exchanged for those five commanders from Guantanamo.
The release might take time in a long process of approval from the US Congress, but the reports suggest Obama Administration’s approach has no red lines or any principles of accountability and transparency. They will be releasing those notorious Taliban commanders who are wanted by the UN for war crimes.
All of the five commanders were in contact and cooperation with Al-Qaeda. One of them is Mullah Fazl, former Taliban Chief of Army and Deputy Defense Minister who is responsible for massacres of thousands of civilians in Mazar, Bamyan and Yakawlang from 1998 to 2001.
According to the Guantanamo files of detainees released by Wikileaks, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Taliban deputy minister of intelligence, “utilized his office to support Al-Qaeda…and arranged for Al-Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff.” Another prisoner is Mullah Noorullah Noori, former Taliban Governor-General of Northern Zone. He is wanted by the UN for war crimes. The Wikileaks file says, he is “associated with members of al-Qaida.”
When these commanders will be released in a murky process, the exclusive approach of the Obama Administration will provoke the Afghan groups who fiercely resisted Taliban and oppose their extremist ideology today, to start preparing for worst days to come. Last week three prominent figures of former Northern Alliance in a meeting with some US congressmen in Berlin expressed these concerns openly to the international community.
On the other hand, President Karzai also needs to avoid overreaction. His order to transfer control of the Bagram Prison from international troops to Afghan officials is an attempt to create influence cards in the process of talks with Taliban. Many Taliban prisoners are in Bagram, and believing to have been left out, President Karzai has ordered transfer of the control of Bagram prison to be in position of influence against the Taliban. If the Taliban are honest about negotiations, President Karzai should avoid muddying the waters with reactionary moves. However, at the end of the day, most important is that Taliban realize and admit the fact that they have more internal problems than with external actors.
Meanwhile, there has been a mysterious silence from Pakistan. Analysts speculate ISI’s approval of the talks saying that there have not been any attempts to stop Tayeb Agha from meeting American officials in Germany and Qatar. The best that Afghans can expect of Pakistan is that Islamabad does not interfere in this process. Their support for the Taliban and prior interference during the civil war and Jihad against Soviet Union in Afghanistan has doomed us to the current situation for the last three decades. Now it’s time they keep away and let us resolve our conflicts.