By Farooq Ganderbali
There is a story of some wise rats deciding to bell the cat for peace. But the peace remained elusive because no rat dared bell her. This is somewhat the story of international efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan wishfully thinking that the Taliban will join these efforts. Taliban furiously reject such efforts with more bloodshed.
On October 16 four nations, named the Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG), met in Muscat (Oman) to discuss how to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table for peace talks. The group comprised Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Russia. Since its formation in January last year the QCG has been making this effort with each member having its own axe to grind, a fact that is no secret to the Taliban. And also a fact that except Afghanistan, other three have no objection to others’ vested interests in Afghanistan.
A week before the Muscat conclave, the Taliban announced they had nothing to do with it. A Taliban representative told the media that they stood by their vow not to talk to the Afghan government. The Taliban’s first Amir late Mullah Omar had conditioned talks with the Afghan government to the exit of foreign troops first from the country. The Taliban stick to this condition.
The Taliban began showing their anger on the eve of the Muscat conclave by killing at least 27 people in Kabul and areas bordering Pakistan by shooting or bombing within four days. On October 17, the Taliban killed at least 100 in two separate attacks. One was a car bomb attack at a Police Training Centre in Gardez the province capital of Paktia, close to the border with Pakistan. Seventy one persons died and 250 were wounded. The second attack was a bomb blast near the provincial Governor’s office in Ghazni. That killed at least 16 security personnel and 13 citizens. Next an Army base in Kandahar was targeted. 58 people died. On October 20, a Shia Mosque was blasted by a suicide bomber killing 72 worshippers. At the same time a Sunni Mosque in the province of Ghor was attacked by a suicide bomber killing 33 worshippers. On October 21 a suicide bomber killed 15 cadets who were leaving their base in Kabul by bus.
If the world does not consider these as acts of terrorism then there is no justification for vowing to decimate the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It had risen as a very wild ferocious Caliphate movement in Iraq in 2014 and mercilessly killed non-Sunni men, women and children if they did not convert to Islam. The world decided to crush it though it appeared unconquerable. Today the Iraqi forces with the backing of America have cleansed their country of it and in Syria it is on the run because of the bombing by the Russian forces.
The point to be noted here is that the world’s determination has pushed the ISIS to its waterloo within less than three years of its formation. And compare this with the situation in Afghanistan: Taliban have been going on with their killing spree in Afghanistan unchecked for about 16 years making mockery of the United States-led war on global terrorism. Americans may claim they finished Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, But the fact is Al Qaeda was only guest of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and when this government was bombed out by Allied forces in 2001, its leaders along with the Taliban shifted to Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The reasons why the Taliban terror goes on unabated and the ISIS is on the run are very simple to understand. Though the ISIS occupied territory in Iraq by terror it did not enjoy the kind of hospitality, diplomatic and logistic support and guidance that the Taliban have been receiving in Pakistan for the past more than 16 years. The ISIS was at once branded as a terrorist organisation and is being punished as such. On the other hand, the Taliban despite their much greater score of terrorist acts are being pampered as some kind of a political entity more sinned against than sinning by those whose vested or nefarious interests in Afghanistan depend on them. These vested interests dare not call their terror acts terrorism. There is a mischievous propaganda that Afghanistan can have peace if the Taliban join the government. The ISIS is not fortunate enough to have the support of such vested interests.
All international meets seeking peace in Afghanistan are in vain if they stake peace in this war-torn country on the goodwill of the Taliban to join a democratic government and Pakistan’s sincerity. The Taliban captured power in Afghanistan (1996-2001) not by the will of the Afghan people but by the will of the Pakistan Army which forced them on Afghanistan. They ruled the country with terror and with a puritan version of Islamic rules. Pakistan, which treated the Taliban as its assets, campaigned for the diplomatic recognition of the illegal government of Taliban. It could persuade only Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE). They at once withdrew their recognition when the US started acting against the Taliban administration in October 2001. Recent reports claim that before the US action even China was toying with the idea of recognising the Taliban’s regime – may be because of Pakistan’s pleadings.
No number of international conferences on Afghanistan can bring peace in that country for a few simple reasons; firstly, the world is not willing to name the Taliban as a terrorist outfit. So far it seems obliged to carry them on its shoulders like the old man and the sea. Secondly, Pakistan’s dream of controlling Afghanistan cannot be realised without reinstalling the Taliban in Kabul. Thirdly, the Taliban knows it very well that they will be committing harakiri if they compromise their rabid Islamic ideology to join a system of governance which they have already rejected as un-Islamic. The Afghan government also faces the dilemma about how much space it can give to Taliban if there is an agreement on power sharing with them without inflicting self-annihilation. That will mean that demolition of the country’s achievements in the fields of democracy, economy, education, human rights, culture and foreign relations. And finally, Pakistan’s obsession of a ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan would always make peace elusive in this endless war-torn country.
(The author is a Kashmir based senior journalist and columnist )