New Age Islam Edit Bureau
04 September 2017
A Champion of Pakistan’s Minorities
By Akbar Ahmed
Spirit of Sacrifice and Pakistan
By S M Hali
The Old Hippy Trail
By Irfan Husain
Two Losers In Afghanistan
By M Ziauddin
Trump’s Puzzling Afghanistan Plan
By Mian Nadeem Ijaz Ahmad
By M Ziauddin
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
On Easter Sunday last year a Taliban
suicide bomber detonated ten kilograms of explosives and metal ball bearings in
a park full of Pakistani Christian families in Lahore, killing 73. The bomber
had chosen a spot between two children's rides. 29 of those killed were
children, the youngest only 2 years old.
It is with this heartbreaking story that
Farahnaz Ispahani introduces her book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: A
History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities.The grim figures continue. After the
Lahore attack we are reminded that the previous year twin suicide bombings in
churches in Lahore killed at least 15 people and sparked Christian outrage and
protests across the city.
Again and again, guiding us through the
harrowing journey of Pakistan's minorities, Farahnaz takes us back to the
example of the Quaid-e-Azam, Mr Jinnah, the towering father of the nation. She
quotes in full Jinnah's historic first address to the Constituent Assembly in
August 1947 with this defining sentence in it: "You may belong to any
religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the
State."She quotes Jinnah's earlier speeches promising religious freedom
with sentences like, "Minorities, to whichever community they may belong,
will be safeguarded. …They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan
without any distinction of caste or creed."
Here it should be noted that Jinnah himself
argued, as Farahnaz states, "[Pakistan] was not intended to be an Islamic
state nor was Partition aimed at creating permanent hostility between Hindus
and Muslims." As early as 1947, Muslim leaders like Nawab Chhatari from
the UP in India, had warned Pakistan's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan,
that if Pakistan moved toward a theocratic state, then Muslims like him in
India would face a Hindu India and Ram Raj.
Farahnaz mournfully explains, "Jinnah
-- himself a Shia -- nominated a Hindu, several Shias, and an Ahmadi to
Pakistan's first cabinet. Now, non-Muslim representation at the cabinet level
is limited to symbolic appointments, while Shias face smear campaigns from
Sunni Muslims that declare them non-Muslims. And the Ahmadis -- who were some
of Jinnah's most ardent supporters in his quest for a Muslim homeland on the
Subcontinent -- are completely unrepresented; they live as virtual outcasts
within modern Pakistan."
The minorities have suffered the most but
there has been a general deterioration of law and order in Pakistan.
Tragically, Shia, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are targets but the horror is
universal: schools and even shrines representing mainstream Sunni Islam have
There is one looming villain in Farahnaz's
book and that is the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq who in her words
"forced Islamisation" and "his bigoted worldview" onto her
beloved Pakistan. He had seized power from the popular elected Prime Minister
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and imposed a strict martial law. It was his period in
which madrasas proliferated and Blasphemy Laws and Sharia Courts were
instituted. Pakistan, according to Farahnaz, lurched towards extremism.
In telling us that when Pakistan was first
founded, 23 percent of the population came from non-Muslim minority religious
groups and now only three percent of the population is non-Muslim, Farahnaz has
fallen into a common statistical error. On the creation of Pakistan, West
Pakistan had a tiny Hindu population as most of the community had already fled
to India, but East Pakistan still had a substantial Hindu population. After the
breakup of Pakistan, the tiny Hindu population of West Pakistan, now
constituting Pakistan, is all that is reflected in the current low percentage.
In the general deterioration of law and
order in Pakistan, not only the minorities are suffering the violence. Tragically,
Shia, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are targets but the horror is universal:
schools and even shrines representing mainstream Sunni Islam have been
targeted. Who can un see the video of the savage lynching of Mashal Khan in
Farahnaz's bleak picture is somewhat
balanced by the many examples of well-integrated and devoted Pakistanis from
the minorities. She herself, a Shia, and her distinguished family are good
examples. Of the many at hand, takeJimmy Engineer, a Zoroastrian, who is one of
Pakistan's most famous painters and widely loved. Dr. Ruth Pfau, a Christian
missionary doctor battling leprosy, was held in such high esteem that upon her
recent death, the President, along with the Commanders-in-Chief of the armed
forces, attended her funeral. Another Christian Pakistani, Dr. James Shera, the
first Asian Mayor of Rugby, England, and himself widely loved among the
Pakistani community, shared his passion for Pakistan in a moving obituary to
Pfau, calling her "Pakistan's Mother Teresa":
"As I watched on television, as the
state-run and private television networks of Pakistan broadcast live footage of
her funeral, this sight of an exceptional measure for a foreign Christian in
this Muslim country overwhelmed my heart and soul."
Farahnaz expresses gratitude to those who
inspired her, including her distinguished grandparents, Hassan Ispahani and
Begum Ispahani, close associates of the Quaid. Her book pays tribute to three
leading Pakistani figures assassinated in the cause of religious freedom--Benazir
Bhutto, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian federal minister.
Farahnaz has held many important positions
in her career including that of a member of the Pakistan National Assembly and
a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, D.C. Perhaps her greatest
achievement is this book, in which she emerges as the champion of Pakistan's
minorities. Whether you agree or disagree with her, there is no denying the
courage, clarity and passion with which she reminds Pakistanis of the need to
live up to the high ideals of the Quaid.
Sacrifice is one of the spirits of Eid-ul
Azha. When Prophet Ibrahim (AS) decided to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail
(AS), Allah in His beneficence and Mercy ordained Eid-ul-Azha to commemorate
the spirit of sacrifice. We are asked to sacrifice an animal on the auspicious
occasion and distribute a portion among the poor, friends and relatives.
Prophet Ibrahim (AS) was willing to sacrifice his own son but we note that the
people of Pakistan, ever since its inception, are willing to make huge
sacrifices for safeguarding their independence.
When Pakistan was created, there was a mass
exodus of humanity. Muslims from the locations, which formed part of India,
decided to move to the promised land of Pakistan. Marauding Hindus and Sikhs
set upon the helpless refugee caravans, killing, raping and looting the
refugees; notwithstanding that revenge seeking Muslims retaliated by pillaging
and killing Hindu and Sikh refugees headed for India. Safe estimates indicate
that more than 15 million people were uprooted, and between one and two million
The second occasion for sacrifice came when
in October 1947; India launched troops in Kashmir to annex it. According to the
Indian Independence Act of 1947, princely states were to decide by the will of
the people to accede to either India or Pakistan but Indian troops forced the
Maharaja of Kashmir to sign a letter of accession in favour of India.
Volunteers from Pakistan including the Army, tried to liberate Kashmir. Despite
their dilapidated arms, they wrested control of one third of Kashmir from India
and would have succeeded in liberating the whole of Kashmir had Pundit
Jawaharlal Nehru not approached the UN Security Council to implement a
ceasefire. Captain Muhammad Sarwar and Naik Saif Ali Janjua are among the
prominent Shaheeds of the 1947-48 Kashmir War.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the
founder of Pakistan should be counted as the country's first Shaheed, since he
was suffering from Tuberculosis and both his lungs were perforated like a sieve
but he hid his illness from all and persevered despite his frail health to
achieve independence for Pakistan. The extreme ailment and exertion took its
toll and the Quaid breathed his last soon after gaining independence.
Quaid's able and trusted lieutenant
Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan tried to steer Pakistan through its nascent stage,
where Indian egocentricity deprived Pakistan of its just share of the assets it
was to receive after partition. In the aftermath of the mass exodus of
refugees, settling them, feeding and housing them, taking care of a nation whose
treasury was empty, Liaquat Ali Khan performed Herculean tasks to settle
Pakistan on its own feet but he was brutally assassinated because he was going
to abolish feudalism in Pakistan. Liaquat Ali Khan, who was once the richest
landowner of undivided India, when he embraced martyrdom, had a handful of
rupees in his bank account and no personal property because he had donated all
his belongings to the cause of Pakistan?
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah should be
counted as the country’s first martyr. He was suffering from Tuberculosis and
both his lungs were perforated like a sieve, but he hid his illness from all
and persevered despite his frail health to achieve independence for Pakistan
Major Tufail Muhammad embraced martyrdom on
August 7 1958, while defending Pakistan in Lakshmipura. On 6th September 1965,
India launched a full scale war on Pakistan. Its land and air forces heavily
outnumbered Pakistan's, but the people of Pakistan stood behind its armed
forces like a solid edifice in face of the enemy's onslaught and defended
Pakistan with some brave tales of valour being emblazoned in the fledgling
nation's history. The supreme sacrifice of their lives by Major Raja Aziz
Bhatti, Squadron Leaders Sarfaraz Ahmad Rafiqui, Munir ud-din Ahmad, Alauddin Ahmad,
Muhammad Iqbal, Flight Lieutenants Younus Hussain and Saifullah Khan Lodhi to
name a few, protected Pakistan from India's invasion.
In 1971, war was thrust on Pakistan as
India machinated to sever its eastern wing and create Bangladesh. Despite its
defeat, Pakistan's armed forces fought with valour and did not demur from
sacrificing their lives. Names like Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, Major Shabbir
Sharif, Sawar Muhammad Hussain, Major Mohammad Akram, Lance Naik Muhammad
Mahfuz, Wing Commanders Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat, Syed Muhammad Ahmad, Squadron
Leaders Khusro, Muhammad Nasir Dar, Muhammad Aslam Chaudhry, Peter Christy,
Hameed Quraishi, Flight Lieutenants, Saeed Afzal, Javed Iqbal and Flying
Officer Naseem Nisar Baig emblazoned trails of glory with the supreme sacrifice
of their lives.
In the snowy heights of Kargil, in 1999,
Captain Karnal Sher Khan and Lalak Jan Shaheed along with numerous others kept
the traditions of sacrifices live.
Following 9/11, global terrorism set its
firm footprints on Pakistan. The brave people of Pakistan, be they the children
of Army Public School Peshawar, Charsadda University or the members of the
judicial community in Quetta sacrificed their lives. According to South Asia
Terrorism Portal, to date 62,425 Pakistanis have sacrificed their lives while
6,813 members of the law enforcing agencies including Pakistan Army, Rangers
and Police have embraced martyrdom. This is directly in line with the spirit of
sacrifice enshrined in Prophet Ibrahim's practice.
September 02, 2017
THE other day I was pleasantly surprised
when I boarded a Number 10 bus in central London, and saw it bore the garish
colours and designs of a Karachi bus.
True, it wasn’t really authentic as it
didn’t have passengers clinging to the doors and stacked on top of the roof,
but it still brought a smile to my lips. A few painted London buses carried
signs like ‘Land of beautiful places’ and ‘Land of highest peaks’, and must
have cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Although the initiative was the brainchild
of our high commission, it was largely paid for by a corporation to celebrate
70 years of independence. However, apart from pleasing Pakistani expats and
visitors, I doubt these buses did anything to motivate Brits to book flights to
Don’t get me wrong: our country has much to
offer visitors in terms of ancient civilisations, colonial architecture, great
food, warm hospitality, and stunning landscapes. But the sad truth is that no
travel agent in his right mind would recommend a holiday in Pakistan.
There was a time when Pakistan was firmly
on the tourist map as foreigners from around the world came to admire sites
from Shalimar Gardens to the necropolis of Mohenjo-Daro. European hitchhikers
came by road across Iran to Lahore and then on to India, Afghanistan and Nepal.
Pakistan was very much a part of the hippy trail.
No one in his right mind would recommend a
I was in Lahore in the late 1960s, and with
bachelor friends would often visit Falletti’s Hotel to try our luck with the
girls stepping off tourist coaches. These were pre-prohibition days, we were
young, and Murree beer was cheap.
In those days, PIA, the national airline,
and the tourism corporation advertised heavily in the foreign media to attract
foreigners to Pakistan. When I last passed by, the PIA office in London’s
upmarket Mayfair area wore a seedy appearance, and faded posters from decades
ago adorned its windows.
After the 1971 war, the border with India
became far more restrictive for tourists, and the Iranian revolution of 1979,
as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the same year, virtually
stopped all overland traffic from Europe. In Pakistan, Zia and his vicious
public flogging and draconian laws put off foreign tourists.
Now, of course, years of unrelenting
terrorist attacks have taken a heavy toll on Pakistan’s image abroad. Out of
preferred foreign destinations, we are probably near the bottom of the list.
Sri Lanka, during a quarter century of
civil war, still attracted tourists. Now, with the war finally over, over two
million visited the lovely island last year. India pulls in nearly 9m. Pakistan
welcomed half a million last year; but bear in mind most of these were visitors
of Pakistani origin.
During an English cricket team’s tour of
Pakistan in the 1980s, Ian Botham said: “Pakistan is a country I’d send my
mother-in-law to as a present.” This crack caused outrage among more
literal-minded Pakistanis, but it contains an element of truth from a
When visitors ask what I would recommend as
evening entertainment, I must confess that all I can suggest is some
restaurant. Movies? Theatre? Nightclubs? Bars? Sorry. The best I can do is to
give them a bootlegger’s number. True, we cannot order our society to
accommodate foreign tastes, even though other Muslim countries do make it
possible for visitors to get a drink in their hotel bars and restaurants at
When some documents surfaced to show that
the Chinese visualised a string of coastal holiday resorts as a peripheral part
of the CPEC initiative, noisy protests from the right wing caused strenuous
back-pedalling. But surely providing some entertainment for Chinese visitors
would be no bad thing.
In our eagerness to prove we are the most
devout Muslims in the world, we forget the hypocrisy at the dark heart of our
society. Alcohol consumption has soared since prohibition was imposed four
decades ago; drug addiction has ruined millions of lives; prostitution is
rampant in some of our most prestigious urban areas; and many fortunes have
been built on drug smuggling and corruption.
Everybody in Pakistan is aware of these
realities, and yet we pretend that they don’t exist. The bars of the wealthy
are well-stocked with smuggled booze, yet hundreds of people are killed and
blinded by home-made hooch every year because prohibition does not give them
access to properly distilled liquor.
Similarly, the fiction at horse races is
that no betting takes place. And yet bookies thrive while the state is deprived
of the taxes on gambling collected in other countries. Clubs for the elites
have card rooms where millions are won and lost every day, but small-time
gamblers are regularly busted.
Two Losers in Afghanistan
The Himalayan confrontation that the
Indians very prudently decided to diffuse on the Chinese terms indicates that
no matter how much help it expects to get from the US for fighting Washington's
proxy war against China New Delhi would resist the temptation of taking on its
bigger and stronger neighbour at least at this point in time.
And considering its own current economic
situation India is hardly likely to spare more than the already committed $3
billion for Afghanistan.
When the China-India Himalayan stand-off
started around mid-June this year the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat
boasted that it was ready to fight a two-and-a-half front war meaning thereby
that India could successfully meet the challenges posed by Pakistan across the
Line of Control (LoC),by China across its Himalayan borders and by the freedom
struggle going on in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) all at the same time.
India is losing out to China as the latter
uses its economic strength in trying to create a single regional market under
the One Belt, One Road initiative
He was followed immediately by his defence
minister who warned China with decidedly misplaced confidence that India is not
what it was in 1962 when the Chinese troops had routed the Indian Army that had
trespassed the Chinese territory. In that conflict China had pushed Indian
troops back into their own region and then voluntarily withdrew across the boundary
line to its own area. What, however, the Indian defence minister forgot to
consider was that China too was not what it was in 1962.
This realization finally dawned on India
after its three month long eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam (claimed
by Bhutan but China has historical documents to prove it was originally Chinese
territory) near what is called the 'Chicken Neck', a short, narrow strip of
land that provides mainland India access to its northern states.
Finding that the stalemate was only eroding
its domestic credibility and would expose its vulnerabilities if tested at the
Himalayan heights New Delhi had meekly complied with Beijing's suggestion and
withdrew its troops from the Chinese territory.
By way of a face-saver for New Delhi Beijing
offered to discuss with India the 'dispute' between China and Bhutan over
Doklamafter the pull back and for India's sake it also did not spell out
whether or not it intended to continue with the construction of the road.
China was, however, too candid in its
assessment of the development. According Beijing India pulled back all its
"trespassing border personnel and equipment from Dong Lang (Doklam) region
on Monday (August 28, 2017) afternoon around 2:30 p.m. local time, ending a
two-month military standoff triggered by India's illegal incursion. The Chinese
personnel onsite have verified this situation.
"About two months ago, the Indian
military trespass grossly encroached on China's territorial sovereignty, and
trampled on the fundamental principles of international law and basic norms
governing international relations.
"Now the withdrawal of Indian troops
has laid a foundation for further development of the China-India relation. It
is good to see that the two countries have solved the conflict peacefully."
"We believe that it serves the
interests of China and India to resolve this incident peacefully via diplomatic
means," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson HuaChunying on a daily
press briefing on August 28. "It also demonstrates China's sincerity and
attitude in preserving regional peace and stability as a responsible major
country," Hua said.
"The Age of Hegemony has become
history. All countries need to see that no matter who they are dealing with,
the fundamental basis is mutual respect, mutual benefit, and win-win
"We hope that India could earnestly
abide by the border-related historical treaty and basic norms of international
law and work with China to ensure peace and stability in the border area on the
basis of mutual respect for each other's territorial sovereignty, and to
promote the healthy development of bilateral relations," Hua told the
On the same day, Chinese Defence Ministry
spokesman Wu Qian commented on India's withdrawal, saying, "We remind
India to learn from this incident, to comply with historical border agreements
effectively as well as the basic principles of international law, and work with
China to maintain peace in the border region."
A researcher in South Asian studies at the
China Institute of International Studies, said India "made a wise
choice" because it realized that it would harm its interests if its
personnel and equipment continued to stay in Dangling.
India suspects that if China completes the
road in question, it would be easier for Chinese forces to cut off the narrow
strip of land that connects India's heartland to its north eastern states in
the event of a war.
India is also worried over the gains that
China has recently made in other South Asian states. Most notably, in July, a
state-owned Chinese firm secured a 70 percent stake in the deep-water port of
Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Colombo agreed to that deal over India's objections.
India frets about China's naval bridgehead in Sri Lanka for two compelling
reasons. First, the port facility will help China extend its political
influence in the country. Second, owing to the port's strategic location, it
could let China monitor Indian shipping and naval activities in the region.
China has also made inroads into Bangladesh
and Nepal. In recent years, it has become the largest arms supplier to
Bangladesh; last year, it sold two submarines to the country. And as India
supported a tacit fuel blockade of Nepal, Beijing quickly came to its
assistance, eroding India's standing there.
In the cases of Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan,
Sri Lanka and Pakistan China has been able to make headway largely because it
can draw on far greater economic resources than India can.
Clearly, India is losing out to China in
South Asia as the later using its economic strength is trying to create a
single regional market to start with as it pushes wider into the world with its
One Belt, One Road initiative.
On the other hand America's global hegemony
has already received a big jolt when after having egged on Georgia and Ukraine
to take on Russia, Washington left the two on their own when Moscow moved in
with its troops. These two losers, therefore, can hardly be expected to come up
with a win in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.
September 2, 2017
US President Donald Trump has finally come
out with a plan for Afghanistan. From the moment it was announced it has
resembled more of a puzzle and less of a plan. Afghanistan has been put on
notice that its troops need to start doing all the major fighting, handling
governance and controlling corruption — in other words, there will be no more
Other elements of the plan seem to be
confused, clichéd, lack historical analysis and and make little political or
military sense. There is lacklustre advisory capacity by the State Department
and Pentagon, if they indeed provided input for the plan whose main parts have
been explained by Mr Trump.
If conditions on the ground and not
timelines will decide strategy and troop levels, then Washington is in situ for
another four more presidential terms. This timeline will further increase if
the US wants the Taliban not to wait it out — they live in a country and do not
have to cross the Atlantic. Can 4,000 additional forces in addition to the
existing 8,400 break the stalemate with the Taliban? Afghanistan has a total of
34 provinces, meaning an additional 117.64 troops per province — that can only
be a winning number if they are all supermen.
Remember there was a stalemate there even
when the US and Nato deployed 140,000 soldiers. So how can one expect 4,000
troops to change the equation? It just defies military logic. The additional
forces, as envisaged by the Trump plan, will undertake counter-terrorism
operations and train Afghan forces. Doesn’t it imply that the existing forces
on garrison duty were twiddling their thumbs? In all probability, the
additional troops will repeat history of ‘General Custer’s Battle of Little Big
Military Autonomy And No Micro
Trump’s contention that the troops in
Afghanistan had no autonomy to attack the Taliban and other terrorists and were
micromanaged by Washington is baffling.
Are US troops sitting in guard posts then?
Who dropped the Mother of All Bombs, conducted anti-insurgent operations and
carried out drone attacks and air raids? Definitely US troops and not some
aliens. Moreover, classic military micro management is having a four-star
general commanding 8,400 troops — no change is envisaged in this policy.
By removing the need for so-called
micromanagement appears to be a scapegoat ploy. The US commander on the ground
will be the fall guy for the commander in chief safely ensconced in the White
House, Joint chiefs in Pentagon and diplomats in the State Department. Even
with 12,400 troops General Nicholson cannot win or break the stalemate. The
result then is a new four-star commander in Afghanistan.
Political Talks With Taliban
The goal of reaching a political settlement
with the Taliban is hardly new. The US has been advised this time and again by
Pakistan and other mature stakeholders. However, by ruling out any timeline for
a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan the prospects of such a settlement
are dim. This would have been a workable option between the years 2002 and 2008
when the ground position was favourable. In the present circumstances the
Taliban are unlikely to negotiate on these terms.
The plan appears to be relying on the
inclusion of some Taliban in a broad settlement following an effective military
engagement. But the Americans seem to have forgotten that the Taliban represent
60 per cent of the Afghan population and no settlement is possible without
them. Moreover, by eliminating the Taliban leadership with drone attacks they
cannot expect to reach a settlement.
The Quadrilateral talks or the 2+2+1
process involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US, China and the Taliban failed
when Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor was killed on 21st May 2016.
Replacing Pakistan with India
This portion of the plan is what happens
when history, regional environment and geography are ignored while formulating
policy options. Pakistan has suffered most from the battle to preserve the
independence of Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Up to 60 per
cent of the Afghan population took shelter in Pakistan as refugees. Of these,
three million still remain in our country.
The Taliban under the guise of the
‘Mujahedeen’ were created by the US to fight the Soviet Union. When US forces
invaded Afghanistan in December 2001 it was Pakistan, which provided all logistical
support and suffered a violent blowback effect along its western border. The
Taliban were defeated in 2001 with Pakistan’s support. At that time if
Washington had heeded Islamabad’s advice for negotiations from a position of
strength, the US would not be in the present Afghan quagmire.
Pakistan has lost 60,000 troops and
civilians in the fight against the Taliban since 2001. This figure does not
include the fatalities caused by US drone attacks on its soil.
Trump’s claim of giving Pakistan $30
billion or so must be debunked. In fact, the United States owes Pakistan over
$120 billion. Pakistan has cleared all sanctuaries and hideouts of terrorists
along its western border. These terrorists are now striking us from safe havens
in Afghanistan, yet US forces do nothing to stop them.
India was a strong supporter of the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Its interference in Afghanistan has
destabilised the region and made the conflict more intractable. Ample evidence
exists of Indian-sponsored terrorism from Afghan soil. Trump should not look at
India with only mercantile benefits. By arraying India against Pakistan the US
leader is disturbing a delicate nuclear equilibrium and exacerbating regional
The world would appreciate it if the
Americans stopped building democracies in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq,
Syria and many others. Millions of people would still be alive if this
realisation had come earlier. There would have been no Islamic State or Da’ish,
al Qaeda and many other violent outfits, if the US was killing actual
terrorists. Even 9/11 would not have happened if the world led by the US had
not walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat. Now maybe Afghanistan
should sort out its own destiny.
In a recent comment on the Afghanistan
plan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his country intends to replicate
the lessons of fighting the Islamic State. Iraq and Syria are not Afghanistan.
Nor is the IS or al Qaeda like the Taliban. Afghanistan remains a mess because
in March 2003, the US invaded Iraq. Nothing could have been more tragic than
that. What is happening in Spain, France, Belgium, the UK, Syria, Turkey and
other parts of the world is a spinoff from the US plan to invade Iraq and not first
finish its project in Afghanistan.
The US-backed Afghan government is not
winning the war. Neither are the Taliban anywhere close to winning it. The
Ghani government is said to control roughly about 60 per cent of Afghan
territory while the Taliban are said to hold the rest.
The long-drawn stalemate is said to be
eroding the morale of the two parties in conflict and at the same time both the
government party as well as the Taliban are said to be afflicted by divisive
forces and a leadership crisis.
A recent British study has found the
Taliban movement to be in disarray. The new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is
widely viewed as weak and ineffective.
Several factions within the Taliban are
said to be vying for power. The Mansour network, which is based in Helmand and
claims to be backed by Iran and Russia, is said to have risen to become the
most dynamic group within the Taliban.
The levels of morale within the Taliban are
said to vary. The boost to morale from the 2016 battlefield successes was
reportedly dampened by the high cost at which they were gained, as well as the
alienation of many Taliban from their leadership and the sense that many had no
stake in those gains.
The expulsion of Afghan refugees from
Pakistan is said to be putting added pressure on the Taliban.
According to the study, there is growing
disaffection within the Taliban about the armed campaign. Many are said to feel
that the war has lost direction and purpose, and is corrupting the movement.
A new approach to peace talks is needed,
the study concludes. This would harness and mobilise the large numbers of
disaffected Taliban, in order to get around the leadership’s stonewalling.
These developments within the Taliban are said to present an opportunity for
The collapse of leadership authority under
Haibatullah, the resurgence of factionalism and the rise of the Mansour
network, as well as the powerlessness of the Taliban leadership to stop
Pakistan from expelling Afghan refugees, have expanded the political space
available to pro-peace insurgent Taliban.
However, according to the study Ready for
Peace? The Afghan Taliban after a Decade of War by Theo Farrell and Michael
Semple, none of this is to suggest that insurgent peace-makers would accept an
Afghan government, which most Taliban abhor.
Rather, insurgent peace-making is based on
the idea of autonomy from both government and anti-government war-makers, and
on disillusioned Taliban extricating themselves from unproductive violence,
without accepting the status quo.
Little is said to be inevitable about the
trajectory of Taliban politics. For senior Taliban dissidents to make an effective
contribution to reducing violence they will need to maintain the respect and
support of their comrade networks.
The Afghan government response could make
this more likely by subtly engaging with them as serious political actors and
allowing them to portray themselves as upright mujahideen, or it could make it
less likely by treating them as mere defectors who have submitted.
The emergence of Taliban dissent is also
said to pose a challenge for the Pakistani authorities. This suggests that if
there is progress towards insurgent peace-making it will be as an outcome of
the Taliban’s own internal political dynamic rather than in response to
In 2016, the authors of this study held
discussions with seven Taliban figures representing different constituencies
within the movement. The context for these discussions was the failure of
existing mechanisms to deliver negotiations, and reports that the new Taliban
emir had failed to exert his authority.
Multiple interviewees stated the doctrine
of obedience to the emir is observed less and that the governance structure is
The purpose was to explore the new Taliban
leadership landscape and, within this, the potential for restarting peace
talks. The discussions were held over 10 days in a location outside the
immediate region. The method centred on lengthy and iterative one-to-one