Category Archives: Insurgency

Taliban Folklore in Pakistani Media

Pakistani weekly The Friday Times has an interesting debate on Taliban and Pashtuns in their edition for this week–Jan 27-Feb 02. I contributed a piece. Below is a slightly different version of the article. 

The dominant discourse in mainstream Pakistani media on issues of foreign policy and national security has always been based on the narrative of the military establishment. Most Pakistani analysts, both right-wing and liberal, believe the Taliban is a nationalist movement motivated by Pashtun alienation in current power structure in Afghanistan. Be it the ‘experts’ of primetime TV talk shows or op-ed pages of Urdu and English newspapers, one always comes across that mantra.

This narrative is a product of the Pakistani military establishment’s ‘strategic depth’ policy, and was propagated internationally by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Addressing the European Union parliament in September 2006, he said the Taliban represent Pashtuns and they could spark a ‘national war’ in Afghanistan. Domestically, opinion makers say that the Afghan Taliban are representatives of the Pashtun.

They say the Afghan Taliban have grassroots support in the south and southeast, and the movement is a reaction to the lack of Pashtun representation. But they also say the Afghan Taliban are a genuine resistance force fighting an ideological war against foreign invasion. The two views do not coincide.

They would never say Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan represents Pashtuns of FATA, or that the insurgency is a nationalist movement motivated by the grievances of the tribes. They call TTP a terrorist organization. And this is where the contradictory notion of good Taliban and bad Taliban comes into play. The Afghan Taliban are a resistance force representing Pashtuns, while their ideological brothers TTP, who also claim allegiance to Mullah Omar, are terrorists.

Ironically, those who claim that the Afghan Taliban are a Pashtun nationalist movement are not Pashtuns, such as Hamid Mir and Orya Maqbool Jan of Urdu media, or Ejaz Haider and Najam Sethi among the liberal voices. Pashtun intellectuals and journalists from conservatives like Rahimullah Yousafzai and Saleem Safi to liberals like Farhat Taj and even some Pashtuns who have been part of the military establishment such as Asad Munir, former head of ISI and MI in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, deny that.

The folklore of Taliban nostalgia prevailing in mainstream Pakistani media that Mullah Omar had brought peace to Afghanistan is also not shared by the Afghans. The Taliban killed thousands of people until there were no rivals and no one to resist their brutality, and there was rejoice in Kabul after their government was toppled in 2001.

Afghans do not see the Taliban as a nationalist movement based on the Pashtunwali code, but influenced by Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan. They are not even a unified group. Not even all Afghan Taliban call themselves Pashtun nationalists. Although they are predominately Pashtun, many among them are from other ethnic groups, particularly in Northern Afghanistan. Local insurgent groups have multiple motivations. Some join the resistance against the perceived foreign invaders, while others fight for local purposes, such as clan rivalries and personal interests. Then there are those who fight for money.

Working on a research project in Northern Afghanistan in August last year, I met some insurgents who were not ethnic Pashtuns, but Turkmens. They told me they were paid $500 to $600 a month by a Taliban commander in Mazar-e-Sharif. That is more than what some of my colleagues were being paid by an NGO. Some of the Taliban men are opportunists who benefit from the narcotics industry and seek Taliban’s shelter.

“Unlike the late 70s and 80s when Afghanistan experienced a national resistance movement against the Soviet occupation, the Taliban’s claim for Jihad against Americans does not resonate with a majority of Pashtuns,” according to Afghan political activist and former chief of staff at Foreign Ministry Wahid Munawar.

The central leadership of all major insurgent factions is based in Pakistan, be it the Quetta Shura of Kandahari Taliban, the Haqqani Network in Waziristan, or the Hizb-e-Islami of Hekmatyar. The commanding cadres of the movement have gone to madrassas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Southern Punjab or Karachi. Balochistan and the tribal areas are recruiting centers for Afghan Taliban. While traveling on the two borders, I regularly meet Taliban who are on their way to Quetta for rest, after a month or two of fighting in Helmand or Uruzgan. Majority of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan are traced to the tribal areas or Balochistan. What cultural or political grievances can they have about the Pahstuns of Afghanistan? The Taliban have destroyed the very foundations of centuries old Pashtun customs such as respect for tribal elders and the Jirga system.

“Taliban draw their support mostly from a tiny minority of Pashtun partly based on ideological grounds,” says Rafi Fazil, an Afghan student and activist. “There is also an element of fear – given the vacuum created by the absence of government in Taliban controlled areas – that plays a key role. Not every Pashtun who sympathises with the Taliban actually subscribes to their violent ideology. Those who do, and are prepared to take part in violence, constitute a tiny minority.”

Though Afghan Taliban brand themselves as a nationalist movement fighting for ‘independence’ and withdrawal of foreign troops, they are not supported by majority of Pashtuns, let alone other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. If there are free elections, the Pashtuns of Afghanistan would reject the Taliban, like Pakistani Pashtuns vote for the liberal Awami National Party.

President Hamid Karzai received a large number of votes from the Pashtun south and southeast. The nationalist Afghan Mellat is a popular party among urban Pashtuns. There is no truth to the statement that Pashtuns lack representation in the current power structure in Afghanistan. In fact, non-Pashtun ethnic politicians complain of the opposite – that Pashtuns hold most key ministries in President Karzai’s administration.

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Blunders to be Undone

my Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 13

Five months ago when the first preparatory meeting for Bonn II was held in Kabul under the auspicious of International Contact Group, I wrote on this page that there were no expectations of a breakthrough in the peace and reconciliation process. It was what organizers of the conference initially aimed all about to achieve on the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference of 2001 that established the Transitional Authority in Afghanistan and the set up later.

There was one big mistake at the time—absence of the Taliban on the table. The international community and the Karzai Administration tried to undo this mistake after 10 years again in Bonn, but despite all-out efforts, they could not make the least of progress on it.

Rather serious blunders were made, once again. For instance, the Afghan delegation was a Government delegation, completely bypassing the political opposition forces—none from the three strong opposition blocks Hope & Change, National Front and Right & Justice Party were invited.

They invited former Taliban figures such as Mutawakel and Hakim Mujahid for the sideline meetings. Whom the international community want to satisfy with such moves? Their media? These former Taliban are now Government’s Taliban of name. They no more represent or have any contact with the insurgency’s leadership based in Quetta and Karachi. It’s waste of time to engage with them. Militants say they will not talk to and through the Afghan Government, but Karzai Administration has been ineffectively trying with the mantra of “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process. This was even added as primary principle for peace talks and reconciliation process in the final communiqué of the Bonn Conference.

Seeing the result of three years of efforts so far, it is unlikely that the Afghan Government will succeed in the reconciliation process prior to NATO withdrawal in 2014. They are yet confused what to call it, “peace talks”, “reconciliation” or “political settlement”?

Since his second term in Arg, President Karzai—whose administration faces serious lack of political mandate and credibility compared to the political popularity after the first Bonn Conference in 2001—has made all-out efforts in this confused process of peacemaking with insurgents under different official programs of reconciliation and reintegration.

We have witnessed that so far nothing has come out of the efforts of Karzai Administration other than a shameful incident when a Taliban imposter and shopkeeper from Quetta deceived the entire intelligence apparatus of the Government taking handsome amount of money back to Quetta. The second blow was recently when a suicide bomber assassinated Ustad Rabbani . President Karzai has only read Fatihas for the martyred Ustad Rabbani on each official political occasions, no initial progress is made in the investigation. The delegation, who were denied visas for Pakistan, could finally go to Islamabad after Turkey persuaded Pakistan to cooperate on this in the Istanbul Summit.

After the tragic assassination of Professor Rabbani, President Karzai announced to halt the “process of talks” with the Taliban. Karzai admitted for the first time that all his efforts had failed and that Taliban had no address. But he changed mind quickly, without any clear vision of direction. The Traditional Loya Jirga of his hand-picked “elders” was staged and asked for “advice” on talks with the Taliban.

The Government has not the capacity and political mandate to be able to succeed in the peace process. The last three years have been ultimate failure. But unfortunately the international community has decided to ignore this. The Bonn Conference should have discussed a UN-led peace process involving regional countries and international stake holders which could be effective, transparent and dynamic.

The Bonn communiqué included nothing significant to undo the mistakes of last 10 years. It once again reiterated the uncertain assurances of the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan from a period of Transition to Transformation Decade of 2015-2025, but not discussed the reasons of slow progress and failure in many areas.

There is an increasing perception in the western media that the military operations have been complete failure. Analysts such as Ahmed Rashid advocate for talks. That has been what the Karzai Administration has desperately tried to do in the last three years, but failed.

The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The Administration in Kabul has not only disappointed Afghans, but failed the entire efforts of the international community. The root cause is in the system which was imposed by the international community in Afghanistan focusing on individuals rather than institutions. The Bonn communiqué mentioned the following;

Afghanistan reaffirms that the future of its political system will continue to reflect its pluralistic society and remain firmly founded on the Afghan Constitution.

It was enforced by President Karzai in retaliation to the increasing demand for change in the system. A strongly centralized system of Government has been against the nature of Afghanistan’s political and social order.

During the last 70-80 unstable years of Afghanistan’s history, all regimes and ideologies that tried to impose a highly centralized system, contributed to instability. For turning the international efforts into quantum success before the withdrawal, it is important to bring fundamental changes in the whole system in Afghanistan.

Even analysts like Ahmed Rashid have started realizing this. In his latest article on the Financial Times mentioning the increasing demands for change in the system from a presidential to parliamentary form of government, he says, “these demands come from important segments of all ethnic groups and need to be addressed by the government and the foreign powers before they leave. Failure to do so could lead to civil war.”

I believe unless there are radical changes in our constitution before the international community leaves, Afghanistan will not be on path of stability. We need rapid institutional decentralization of power and change of system from highly centralized presidential to a federal parliamentary government. We need reforms in electoral system, judicial sector and much more. This could be the only recipe for the Taliban peace process, reconciliation or political settlement whatever you name.

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Taliban Denial of Talks

Daily Outlook op-ed published July 26

A latest Taliban video released by the Al-emara studio has been uploaded online. The 45 minutes video features attacks, RPG firings, blasts and interviews of Taliban commanders in Kunar province. It focuses on the talks about talks with Taliban, strongly denying the media reports that some Taliban officials had direct talks with the US. The overall message and theme of the video is mainly rebuttal of reports on Taliban talks, saying its war propaganda by the US. The video also asks media not to report on these false claims. It also features Taliban songs praising their Al-Badar operations started in spring this year.

The video starts with a statement saying the reports of talks with Taliban are a war tactic and propaganda. It further says the US on one hand talks about negotiations with Taliban, while on other hand there are discussions of long-term military presence in Afghanistan. It asks, how could talks be possible in such a condition? The video message requests international media not to report about the false propaganda spread by the CIA through its favorite American outlets.

It’s not the first time Taliban propaganda cell, al-emara or their so-called spokesmen have made such claims. However, it’s new that al-emara has particularly focused their video release on the talks with US, with interviews of Taliban commanders about this. The video is apparently in Kunar, and commanders interviewed are fighters from there. Al-emara does not mention Taliban or particular militant groups in their statements or messages. They use the word “Mujahideen” for themselves. Therefore, it is not clear whether the commanders are from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Haqqani Network, or Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
The reports about direct talks between the US and Taliban in Munich made headlines in local media in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent weeks, Taliban propaganda sources have been denying those reports. The name mentioned in these reports is of Sayed Tayeb Agha, Mullah Omar’s personal secretary. It was reported that he has been meeting American officials in Munich and Doha with the approval of Mullah Omar. It could be possible that the Taliban leadership involved in talks have kept it secret from their field commanders, or simply do not want to admit before they reach to a conclusion.

The reports of talks have already created an atmosphere of distrust among the ranks of mid-level Taliban leadership. In recent months, we have witnessed scores of Taliban fighters laying down their arms and joining the peace process in different parts of the country. One reason for Taliban propaganda cells to deny the direct talks could be to end the distrust spread among their commanders by calling the talks a CIA-propaganda.

Recently in a trip to Quetta, brother of a Taliban commander in Zabul, my home province, told me there is a “martyr” from every Noorzai and Kakar tribe of the province, “how could Amir-ul-Momineen end all our efforts in a deal”, he responded to my question about the direct talks of Tayed Agha with the US officials. “If he [Mullah Omar] had to do this, he should have handed over Osama to America in 2001”, he told angrily.

Even if the Taliban leadership of the Quetta Shura approve of talks, there will be many elements among their own commanders to oppose such a move. However, if the leadership council comes to an understanding, such elements won’t be influential to keep the entire insurgency strong.

The denials such as the latest al-emara video could also be propaganda by Al-Qaeda to disrupt the process of talks, before it makes an initial success. Most Jihadi online propaganda forums and websites are run by Al-Qaeda elements, and al-emara is part of that. It’s obvious that Al-Qaeda will fiercely resist the US and Afghan Government attempts to separate Taliban from them. Those Taliban who have been named in media reports to have talked directly with the US will be a high target of Al-Qaeda. They might have already launched the strategy to fail such attempts, and create hurdles in talks with Taliban by all means, including disinformation propaganda.

However, if the reports of direct talks are to be believed, the process is very slow. It has been almost a year now, since the first these meetings were reportedly held. If after several meetings and direct talks, there is no sign of a progress, I am skeptical of any such hope in future. Contrary to what should have happened, we witness a rise in suicide attacks, and assassinations of Afghan officials claimed by Taliban. If there is any possibility of success on talks, the process should not have been a unilateral appeasement of the insurgents through moves like the names of more than a dozen former Taliban being delisted from the UN sanctions list, but in response, Taliban increasing suicide attacks and terror campaign.

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Security Assessment and the Transition in Balkh

People are still in shockwave after the assassination of General Daud Daud, Police Chief for Northern Zone. It has not only deep psychological impact on the security perspective of people in the North, but also insecurity has deteriorated since. Cases of murders and crimes have increased in Mazar-e-Sharif city. The other day when I was passing by a busy square early in the morning, a mine blast rocked the city, luckily no one was killed except some injured. The news spread fast, further scaring the already low security confidence of people. Such blasts are rare in Mazar city, where people credit Governor Ata Muhammad Noor for the relative security and development.
Nobody knows where the investigation of Daud’s death has reached, or if there was such a thing at all. There were serious questions of security breach inside the Takhar Governor’s compound. Who changed the venue of that meeting in the morning, which was supposed to be held at the PRT compound? If not the Interior Ministry from Kabul, at least Governor Ata himself should have ordered a thorough investigation. The impact of Daud’s assassination is visible in the increasing sense of insecurity among people in the North. Governor Ata has limited his public appearances. In events where he used to give speeches previously, now written messages are read or a representative sent. He rarely goes to events outside his compound, and all officials visiting him must go without arms. His guards are close aides, and common soldiers from security forces are not fully trusted. In such an environment, you can imagine the concerns of a common person.
Officials in Kabul beat the drum of transition, and Mazar is on the list of 7 areas to be transferred to Afghan security forces. The control is set to be transferred next month. In-charge of the Transition, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was here two weeks ago. In a joint press conference with Governor Ata, they ‘hoped’ the transition will be a success. I visited many districts of Balkh Province during the past week. The general sense among masses is of an uncertain situation and fear of insecurity.
Previously there had been reports of insecurity and Taliban influence in four districts of Balkh including the ancient town of Balkh, Charbolak, Chemtal and Sholgara. But now incidents of insurgent insecurity have gripped Kaldar, Dawlatabad, Shor Tepa and Nahr Shahi districts also.
For instance, In Kaldar district of Balkh, which borders Uzbekistan, Taliban almost rule at night. Insurgents have ordered the telecommunication companies to shut down their signals at night; otherwise their towers would be blown up. The companies abide by this and cell phones do not work at night.
A friend of mine, who works for a Non-Governmental Organization, says he has been receiving calls from a Mullah Jabbar introducing himself as a Taliban commander in Mazar, and asking to leave the job with the NGO. According to Taliban spokesman, their shadow governor for Balkh is Mullah Abdul Karim, son of Mullah Abdul Jabbar. It’s not clear if the Jabbars are the same.
My friend says Mullah Jabbar asks him to join Taliban as an informant in Kaldar District and he will get paid in dollars more than that of his NGO salary. Offering him $500 a month, the Taliban commander also threatens with death if he ignores the offer. He is afraid, because already insurgents have killed his one female colleague a couple of months ago, and the NGO office was once burnt at night. But he will not succumb to Taliban threats, because being a resident of the district, he despises insurgents and don’t want their growing influence.
There had been rocket attacks on Kaldar District Governor office two months ago. All those feared “Taliban” in the area are local people with commanding orders and support from other networks of insurgents in the south and southeast.
I attended sermon of a Mullah in Kaldar. It was a routine talk and he was saying wherever the Americans go; they bring more harm than good. Sermons of Mullahs are the most effective channels of spreading conspiracy theories. The Mullah was saying the US has come in Afghanistan to loot our natural resources. Giving an example, he said everyday two helicopters land and take off from a hill in Marmul District, which has been a mining place in the past. The Mullah was way different than what I had expected in such a place. He didn’t talk against the Government, or about violence against foreign troops.
People traveling between Mazar to Jawzjan fear the increasing insecurity in Charbolak District on the highway. The district is known for an insurgent hideout where many incidents of armed battle between insurgents and security forces have occurred. Vehicles are stopped on the highway, and it has increased the sense of insecurity among masses.
The ancient town of Balkh District some 20 kilometer from Mazar city can easily go to insurgents if the situation gets deteriorating. During the resistance of Northern Alliance forces against Taliban advancement in 90s, Mazar fell to Taliban several times because of local support from Balkh town, which is strategic to the defense of the city. Today there is visible Taliban influence in the district.
Similarly, Chemtal District is the worst insurgent influenced in the Province. Many INGOs have phased out their operations from there due to increasing attacks. Same is the situation in Nahr Shahi and Kashinda districts. Meanwhile, incidents of insecurity have increased in Dawlatabad district too.
With above picture, the situation is bleak. Governor Ata reiterates the same reasons for the deteriorating situation. He says due to the negligence of North by international security forces, the US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the military operations in south and southeast, insurgents have been moving to North. Influence of Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami insurgents is growing, and Al-Qaeda affiliated activists of Uzbekistan Islamic Movement are also in the area, Governor Ata says.
The unclear transition strategy further adds to the uncertainty of the situation ahead. Ground assessment makes it obvious that Afghan forces are not fully capable of security control. In none of the abovementioned districts, there is enough number of police deployed. Given this, there is no risk calculation in the transition strategy. Let’s suppose after months of security transfer, the situation gets out of control and Balkh becomes the other Kunduz, what will be the choice for international security forces? Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai can better answer this question.

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Obama’s Britain Speech and Afghanistan

My Outlook op-ed on May 26

The US President Barack Obama while addressing the joint session of British Parliament made another historic and inspiring speech of his times. It was not only his strong words and the power of speech talking about the special relationship between the US and UK which had moved the members of the World’s mother of all parliaments in London, but more importantly, for us, once again President Obama in a clear-cut message affirmed the commitment of the international community in Afghanistan led by the US and UK.

President Obama arrived in Britain on Tuesday in his second-stop of the Europe visit after Ireland. He held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and earlier visited the Queen. Afghanistan was an important topic of his talks with British officials. The President gave speech to British Parliament on Wednesday. And his important focus was again the situation in Afghanistan. Prior to the speech at Westminister Hall, British Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama hosted a barbeque party in honor of the wounded soldiers who had served in Afghanistan. Both leaders gave a joint press conference iterating the importance of international community’s commitment to Afghanistan till the end of the conflict.

Addressing the British Parliament, he said that Afghanistan is central front of the fight against terrorism and UK has been a stalwart ally of the US in the efforts. He paid tributes to the fallen soldiers because of whom, the President said, momentum of Taliban has been broken. While we have deep respect for the sacrifices of all international soldiers who have fought terror in Afghanistan with their lives, we differ with the confidence of President Obama about Taliban. Insurgency has intensified across Afghanistan, and the US and NATO troops are fighting the most difficult year of this war so far. Taliban have not been defeated. Rather they seem to be stronger. Just during the last four months, Taliban have killed more than 2000 innocent Afghan civilians. This does not show that the momentum of Taliban has been broken, rather they are attacking more sophisticatedly and deadly.

President Obama said the international community is in a period of transition in Afghanistan, and will pursue peace with those who break free of Al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution and lay down arms. The President has uttered these firm words before too, but again we warmly welcome this stance. The international community led by the US and UK should ensure a long-lasting peace and end of conflict in Afghanistan, not an endgame deal with Taliban patched up in a rush of withdrawal, that many so-called “Afghanistan experts” suggest nowadays.

The militants have not only shown any sign of disassociation from Al-Qaeda, but they have started a wave of merciless attacks on Afghans as revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden. We demand the international community not to make any kind of deal or “endgame settlement” with Taliban unless they denounce Al-Qaeda, accepts the current Afghan system, our constitution and lay down arms joining the peaceful society.

The leading expert Peter Bergen of CNN in a recent analysis explains many reasons why the international community should not count on a deal with Taliban. He says,

“The Taliban have had ten years to reject Bin Laden and all his works, and they haven’t done so”. He adds, “The history of peace deals with the Taliban in Pakistan shows that the groups can’t be trusted. Deals between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in Waziristan in 2005 and 2006 and in Swat in 2009 were merely preludes to the Taliban establishing their brutal emirates, regrouping and then moving into adjoining areas to seize more territory”. Mr. Bergen reminds us the most important fact that President Karzai has been trying his best to persuade Taliban for peace talks in the last two years, but all in vain. “The several meetings over the past three years between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in Mecca and in the Maldives to discuss reconciliation have so far produced a big zero.”

The problems expressed by Peter Bergen have been talked about on the opinion pages of the Outlook Afghanistan by our writers for the last two years. We are still skeptical of this process to reach out to Taliban and make a deal. We believe it will not work even at the minimum optimistic level of expectations. Therefore the international community should not focus all efforts on this considering the talks and an eventual deal as the only endgame option remaining. We support the efforts to persuade Taliban to lay down arms and end the conflict, but also strongly urge the international community to have their clear alternatives other than a political deal with Taliban if it does not work at all.

President Obama made the conditions very clear that; the Taliban must disassociate from Al-Qaeda, lay down arms and accept the Constitution of Afghanistan. We hope these are not mere uttering, rather a solid policy position. The international community must not leave Afghanistan trying a hurried solution of deal with militants. It will lead us to the situation of 90s, when the US left Afghanistan all on its own, after extensive support in our resistance against the Soviet invasion. What came of that abandonment was an Afghanistan in bloodshed of civil war followed by the rise of Taliban who gave protection and training places in Afghanistan for all the terrorists of the globe. History will repeat itself not very differently if the international community led by the US and UK leave Afghanistan behind in a fragile situation and uncertain future.

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The Ridiculous “Talks about Talks” with Taliban

My Outlook op-ed on May 23

Taliban continue the terror. Their Al-Badar operation has just started and about 2000 civilians have been killed by them in last 4 months. Some foreigners think, and they are quite right, that Afghans are hypocrite. People are ready to die protesting on alleged deaths of civilians by foreign troops, but never condemn Taliban brutality. It’s not understandable why masses keep mum against Taliban killings of innocent laborers and ordinary people in bomb blasts. Probably it’s the fear of insurgents. In the past, many tribal elders or religious scholars who condemned suicide bombings have been murdered by Taliban.  Another reason why people protest against foreign troops, while ignoring Taliban brutalities is that troops have visibility, in their bases and offices where people come and show rage. While nobody knows where a Talib suicide bomber comes from and no visible figures represent insurgents in public. However, past experience and the nature of our people suggest that when common Afghans react against Taliban, it would be an armed confrontation with them.

The worst cowardly Taliban attacks were of the last two weeks on students at a hospital in Kabul, and poor laborers working on a construction site in Paktia. They also proudly claimed responsibility, yet our rulers come with routine ready-made press statements condemning the unknown “enemies of Afghanistan” for these attacks. The nation is confused who the unknown enemies are, when President Karzai avoid naming Taliban, whom he prefers to call “our angry brothers.”

While the members of President Karzai’s Peace Council make tours from Maldives to Turkey, Taliban have shown not even little willingness for talks. The irony is that those who are fighting on ground have not been contacted, while our “white-beard” elders of the High Peace Council are holding meetings in Pakistan and Iran taking our neighbors “in confidence”, and the “angry brothers” of the President continue terror against innocent civilians. It has been almost a year now this Council is established. They have spent millions on making group-travels abroad, flying in business class, staying in expensive luxury hotels, but what is the outcome so far? Why it has been that difficult to make a direct contact with Taliban commanders on ground, and their leaders? They are advocating for a Taliban Political Office abroad. First Turkey was suggested, and now speculations are about UAE or any other Gulf Arab country, who are very well familiar with their former beneficiaries of Jihad donations. But the question is, why our “white-beard” elders, who have been given relevant authority in this regard, are not confident to ask Taliban for negotiations in some place of their stronghold in Kandahar, rather than advocating a ridiculous “political office” abroad? The fact is that, the Peace Council is not confident of their overtures, otherwise they could have at least started the talk about talks in a direct contact with Taliban, rather than making irrelevant visits abroad.

Recently there have been reports about directs talks of the US with Taliban. But insurgents’ spokesman has strongly rejected the latest reports affirming their “commitment” with more deadly attacks, of which most victims are Afghan civilians. However, the US officials still talk about the “need to talk to Taliban”. It sounds ridiculous. Because we know that the US is already in dire pursuit of this, and that’s what President Karzai and his Peace Council has been trying to do in the past two years, but they have failed. Nobody understands what to name this ineffective and failed process. Negotiation is the name of a process in which two sides of the conflict agree to talk. But here it has been all a unilateral desire. No matter how many times President Karzai turn a blind eye towards the death of innocent Afghan civilians by Taliban while ruining his relations with NATO/ISAF and the US on incidents of civilian deaths by foreign troops,  his “angry brothers” are not taking it for “confidence building”.

Officials of President Obama’s Administration admit that reconciliation with all Taliban won’t be successful. Even if the negotiations somehow start with any important insurgent leaders, there will be militants who will never reconcile or become part of peaceful society. Suicide bombings won’t stop, and these people can only be defeated militarily. Critics say why it has not been possible in the last 9 years. It’s obvious, because terrorists have never been targeted in their sanctuaries. They have training camps and recruiting centers operating in North Waziristan and other tribal agencies in Pakistan, yet Pak Army is reluctant to launch military operations there. Even the US has failed to persuade them for this.

On the other hand, the unilateral attempts of talks with Taliban both from President Karzai, who is running these affairs like solving any intra-tribal issue, and the US won’t work if it ignores another important phenomenon. It’s not only the US having problems with militants. The anti-Taliban constituency in Afghanistan has to be involved in a true sense, not just with symbolic members in the Peace Council. Afghans who resisted and fought Taliban for years have also problems with them, but they are completely ignored in this ridiculous process.

We can’t count deaths of innocent people every day, and the fruitless “talks about talks” continues but actually never happening in real productive sense, while our rulers and western leaders now calling it the only solution to end conflict, which is not working at all. What lies ahead for Afghanistan is an uncertain and unknown future, with regional stability, and global peace at stake.

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Tal-Qaeda After Osama

My Outlook op-ed on May 09

The death of Osama Bin Ladin has been making the titles of opinion pages in the Af-Pak region where it matters the most. In Afghanistan, there are different perspectives. Optimists of the Taliban talks say Osama’s death will help the negotiations process. Such views are shared both among some Afghan and the US officials and Western think-tank pundits. References are made about personal ties of Osama with Taliban leadership. They say it was Osama whom Mullah Omar refused to hand over to the US, not Al-Qaeda fighters, making the conclusion that with his death, Taliban leadership feel easier to cut ties. The top US commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus also says “the deal between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida was between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations.”

The common myth is that Taliban is a national movement for local control in Afghanistan, not with global aims. But the fact is that, Taliban have never fought for power or rule, otherwise they would have easily handed over bin Laden to the US and saved their rule in 2001. The driving force for their fighters and leadership is the Salafi Jihadi ideology. And there is no local or global difference of goals in such Jihad. It all depends on Taliban’s capability. If they have the means and resources to reach and carry out a major attack in the West, elements of Taliban will certainly do.

In reaction to Osama’s death, the most authentic Afghan insurgent group, Taliban’s so-called Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar, in a statement said, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan extends its deep condolence to the family of the martyr, to his follower and to fighter Mujahideen of the way of Truth and to the Islamic Ummah [nation] on this occasion of the great tragedy.” In the official statement Taliban said, “Sheikh Osama bin Laden was the ardent advocate of the legitimate cause of the occupied Palestine. He was an indefatigable fighter against the Christian and Jewish aggressions in the Islamic World.”

Groups of frontline Taliban fighters have vowed to avenge Osama’s death. According to Reuters, in a video message Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan have said Osama’s death is a motivation to continue Jihad. “We will continue with our Jihad and sacrifice against infidels until the judgment day and we will avenge our martyrs.” Another field commander Dawran Safi has said “we created special units for avenging the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. We will avenge him and follow in his footsteps.”

If Taliban had no operational, tactical and strategic links, they would not be able to launch the regrouping after 2004 and an intensifying insurgency since 2006, which was only possible with Al-Qaeda’s support. The other day, Afghan intelligence, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spokesman while addressing a press conference in Kabul said Osama was an important player behind the intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.

NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal was saying Osama’s death is a success in this war, and “Afghans feel safe now after Osama’s death.” Hours after this statement, Kandahar was terrorized by groups of Taliban suicide bombers, who besieged the city for more than two-days, in revenge for Osama’s death, panicking the Afghan security forces who despite the help of foreign troops, were unable to control the situation.

The fact is that Osama was not playing it all alone. He was hiding in a house for the past six years, sending messages only through couriers. The ground commanders of the movement are more crucial than Osama himself. How could bin Laden alone make all the financial support and Jihadi fund raising for Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Middle East, while hiding in a compound in Pakistan, communicating through people-couriers? Indeed he was an inspirational icon and manager, but the actors are more crucial. Al-Qaeda was not all in the person of Osama Bin Laden that will evaporate in the air after his death.

The US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was saying Osama’s death could be a “game-changer” in Afghanistan. I don’t believe Osama’s death will make any difference to the situation in Afghanistan. There are far more evil Al-Qaeda leaders for his succession. More dangerously, local Af-Pak militants are now in the top cadre of the organization. Osama’s hideout in Pakistan for the last six years has brought non-Arabs in the leadership of Al-Qaeda. After the influx of their fighters and leadership in the safe havens of Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2001, they built deep ties with militant outfits having regional goals. Af-Pak guerilla commanders are now among the leaders of Al-Qaeda. The organization has also given rise to Al-Qaedism. There are half-a-dozen local militant sectarian and Kashmir-oriented groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, 313 Brigade who were with local goals previously, but now operating on international level as evil as Al-Qaeda.

Taliban groups in the safe havens of Waziristan are linked with Al-Qaeda. A single example is the group of Maulvi Nazir, Taliban commander in Waziristan who is behind insurgency in Afghan provinces of Paktika, Zabul and Helmand. In a recent interview to Asia Times Online, he said “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same.” The US and NATO is now looking for talks with Taliban, who have the same view what Maulvi Nazir says.

The Haqqani Network, who are behind insurgency in Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces, has grown stronger links with Al-Qaeda during the last years. Many Kashmir Jihadi commanders have come close and affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The funeral prayers for Osama in Pakistani cities were called by Jamaat-u-Dawa, the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the Mumbai terror attacks. It has been with the help of such local militant groups that Osama bin Laden was able to hide in a compound next to Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad 60 miles away from capital Islamabad. Such Kashmir-centric militant outfits are now affiliates of Al-Qaeda, with clear global agendas. Veteran reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad says, “Al-Qaeda had restructured its organization as a parent body of local Jihadi organizations world over. They called those local Jihad youths as Ibnul Balad son of the soil.

It has been years that local Af-Pak militants are in the top command of Al-Qaeda. One example is a former Kashmiri Jihadi, Ilyas Kashmiri who heads Al-Qaeda’s global military operations. He is considered one of the most dangerous militant commanders in the world. After joining Al-Qaeda in 2005, he was behind regrouping of Taliban and redefined insurgency in Afghanistan by his military expertise of the guerilla warfare. He taught the insurgents with special operations tactics targeting foreign troops, bases and Afghan security compounds and with particular focus on cutting NATO supply lines.

Osama’s death is a blow to Al-Qaeda for organizational reasons, but it won’t affect their operations, and certainly not a game-changer in Afghanistan.

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