By Samuel Baid
On June 6, 2017, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave the Taliban “the last” chance to come to the negotiating table or face the consequences. Nine months later (February 28, 2018), he said he was willing to accept the Taliban as a political party if they came to the negotiating table. The Taliban have reacted to neither the last chance warning war nor to the offer of accepting them as a political party.
To emphasise their non-recognition of what Ghani has to say they accelerate their terrorist activities in Afghanistan killing innocent children, women, men besides Afghan defence personnel and policemen in even religious gatherings and even funerals.
During the second half of 2017 they conducted a number of terrorist attacks which continued unabated into 2018. Their more deadly attack after the Mazar-e-Sharif terror, that killed more than 100 Afghan Army men on April 22 last year, was this year on January 27 in the security area in Kabul. Here more than 100 people including ordinary citizens and policemen were killed immediately. After that a military academy was attacked in Kabul. Eleven Afghan soldiers were killed. The responsibility for this attack was owned by the Islamic State. Next day, the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel was attacked just the way Taj Hotel in Mumbai in November 2008 was. In the Mumbai attack more than 160 persons, including some Americans, were killed. In the attack on the Kabul International Hotel 20 persons were killed. Afghan Representative at the United Nations (UN) Mohammad Saikal claimed the leader of this attack had been trained by Pakistan’s Inter-services intelligence (ISI) in Chaman on the border with Afghanistan. Simultaneously two senior Afghan officials – Interior Minister Wais Ahmed and Chief of the Afghan security agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), Masoom Stanekzai – went to Islamabad with proofs that the Taliban living in sanctuaries in Pakistan were responsible for terror attacks in Afghanistan. The US President Donald Trump reacted angrily and vowed to crush the Taliban and never hold talks with them.
But after President Trump agreed to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Taliban were encouraged to approach the US with a request to hold direct talks with them for peace in Afghanistan. The US turned down this request unless they talked with the elected government of Afghanistan. Senior US diplomat for South and Central Asia Alice Wells said: “So, what were looking for in Afghanistan is a fundamental recognition that in an insurgency, the insurgents and the government that is ruling need to engage in a conversation with one another as well as with other interested parties to that settlement”. She described the Taliban as a stumbling block to peace.
The Taliban are the stumbling block to peace because if they give up militancy and terror, they will lose their importance. Now they must have realised that killings and suicide bombings no more convince the people of their Islamic credentials. One may notice that the Taliban now hardly speak of Islam as the motive force behind their terror and militancy. Now they want to overthrow the Afghan Government not so much because the government in Kabul is un-Islamic, but as they say, it is “illegitimate” and “slave”. They know Muslim schools all over the word (except Islamic schools patronised by Pakistani Army) reject Taliban’s Islamic credentials.
The Taliban had their Islamic education in Pakistani madrashas. They had the golden chance to implement their Islamic ideology when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. But during their six years they alienated the Afghan people from the very religion. They had no idea of Sharia rule. They were brought to Afghanistan by the Pakistani Army like a bull to a China shop. They destroyed whatever was left intact in Afghanistan after the war of the 1980s and then the conflicts amongst the Afghan warlords.
Betraying their twisted idea of Sharia rule, the Taliban banned employment for women and their stirring out of their homes without a male chaperon. The Taliban rulers did not appreciate the fact that the long war in Afghanistan had left many homes without a male member and that these women were the only bread earners for their children. The prestigious English daily of Pakistan DAWN’s monthly journal HERALD carried a lengthy investigative report in 1999 on respectable Afghan women who had lost their jobs after the Taliban came. The report said these women dressed up as beggars and went to market places for prostitution. Demeaning themselves was the only way they kept themselves and their children alive. Under Taliban’s nose prostitution flourished with their connivance. One reason why the Afghans hate Pakistan is because they are not willing to forgive it for imposing the Taliban on them and it is trying to do that again in the name of peace in their country.
Thus, the Taliban cannot claim any recognition as an Islamic entity. They command recognition as militant terrorist force. That recognition is negative. However, this negative character serves the vested interests of China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran. Supported by these countries, the Taliban see their militancy/terrorism as an asset which they will not trade for the recognition as a political party. Although these countries claim they are committed to peace in Afghanistan it is not in public knowledge that they ever put pressure on the Taliban to desist from terrorist activities in Afghanistan or they even asked Pakistan to demolish Afghan-specific terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.
Now, the Taliban have two options before them: (i) Give up violence and join the Afghan peace talks and join the mainstream of political life and be part of the government. This aims at mainstreaming the Taliban. But they may consider this choice self-effacing. As a political party they will have to seek people’s mandate to be in the government. But the absolutely power enjoyed by them for six years (1996 – 2001) made them used to rule by brute force without accountability. The Taliban, however, cannot take US President Donald Trump’s warning to crush them lightly as things cannot go on as they have in the past 17 years. President Trump’s new policy for Afghanistan and South Asia which he announced in August 2017 seeks to keep pressure on the Taliban and Pakistan. This policy has warning for both, Taliban and Pakistan. (b) The second choice for the Taliban is to go on with bombs and suicide jackets for the benefit of their supporting countries. But among these countries Pakistan has already began to wilt. It is accepted that without Pakistan’s overt and covert help the Taliban will not take long to collapse. When this happens their bargaining strength will go. Also, it is very unlikely that China or Russia will intervene on behalf of the Taliban in case they are subjected to a joint operation of the Afghan and the US forces. The US forces in Afghanistan say they have no plans for hot pursuit of terrorists who flee to Pakistan. But there are other statements from Washington which hinted that action would be taken if Pakistan does not close down terrorist sanctuaries which are used for terror attacks in Afghanistan. Also the US State Department has put on the Taliban the onus to show their willingness to talk peace with the Afghan government. This would effectively mean the US has put the onus for peace in Afghanistan on both Pakistan and the Taliban.
It remains to observe whether in this spring the Taliban would carry on their offensive against the Afghan and American soldiers and the hapless non-combatants or they would press the pause button and have a rethink. Simultaneously, would Pakistan, in its election year, try to mend the fence with its neighbours? But both Pakistan Army and Taliban must remember that not only the global community is watching them but the prevailing mood in the White House is not only unpredictable but might waylay them in a very unsavoury situation.